Duct tape covers a large crack in the premier booth at Hard Time Josephine’s Cooking, where waitresses call you “sweetie” and customers come for the steaming shrimp bisque and homemade peach cobbler that leaves a hint of cinnamon on the tongue.

Not long ago, such an eyesore at one of Chicago’s top soul food restaurants would have been unthinkable. Despite the name, times were good: Chicago was a bustling center of black America and people in the neighborhoods savored Southern-style cooking.

But in the past 10 years as the city lost more than 17 percent of its black population, one soul food place after another has closed and the surviving few like Josephine’s are struggling. A tradition is dying in a place where southern cooking came north in the major social migration after World War II.

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