Shonta Simmons opened N & Out Market in Peoria, Ill., with her husband, Willie, in early 2021 with a solid business mission: to provide fresh, healthy foods to local residents and establish a position as community advocates.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun along the way.

“We want to put people’s minds in a positive place.”

At N & Out Market, the couple established a carnival-like vibe, offering the types of food and drink that one might find walking the Atlantic City boardwalk. Carnival-inspired foods include lemonade shake-ups, funnel cakes, chili cheese dogs and fries. Separately, N & Out Market merchandises whole catfish, buffalo fish, wings, chicken tenders and okra.

“With a carnival-like atmosphere, we want to put people’s minds in a positive place—like when people attend a carnival and don’t have a care in the world,” Simmons says. “We once planned to ‘dumb down’ the menu but then decided to go for it and pivoted to expand the menu significantly.”

The couple regards the market as a way to help solve the food desert and food insecurity crisis in the south
end of Peoria.

In 2022 and beyond, Simmons says she and her husband are poised to become shape-shifters in a community that sorely needs a booster. “We came here with a fresh perspective about how we can make a positive impact locally,” she says. “One goal is to demonstrate to Black teenagers that they have a real chance to thrive as entrepreneurs—using Willie and me as examples. We’re very eager to transform the minds of the kids and tell them, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ ”