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Inspiration Corp. breaks new ground in East Garfield

Having a sit down restaurant that’s good to your wallet and taste-buds is an experience our minds won’t let us forget.  As social creatures of habit we want to share those cozy ‘benefits’ with others, inviting our friends and acquaintances to venture out and partake in the sense of momentary enjoyment that we’ve had.

With limited dining options, fast food notwithstanding, Garfield Park residents overwhelmingly identified "sit-down restaurants" as a retail category where more local options were needed in a 2007 neighborhood commercial study.

Photo: Courtesy Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance

Celebrating the groundbreaking for Inspiration Kitchens' new East Garfield Park location are founder Lisa Nigro, board chairman Steven Gross, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance executive director Eunita Rushing, Ricardo Estrada of the City of Chicago, former board chair Mirriam Leichstein, and executive director and CEO John Pfeiffer.

Today, Inspiration Corporation, the brains behind Café Too’ (4715 N Sheridan Road), have committed to expanding their dining concept into the Garfield Park community. More than just a restaurant, they represent the cutting edge in social enterprises with a mission that goes beyond what their menu has to offer.

How do they do it?  Inspiration Corporation provides sites for employment training and transitional jobs for homeless and low-income men and women.  Since 2001, 370 graduates have left Café Too with the culinary skills and experience they need to succeed in the food industry. (For an earlier story, please click here.)

The graduates and trainees prepare the everyday dishes and catering options that are provided at Café Too and this award-winning model will be replicated at Inspiration Kitchens, coming to 3504 W. Lake St.

At a recent groundbreaking event, Executive Director and CEO of Inspiration Corporation, John Pfieffer told a crowd of supporters, “We are very excited about expanding our social enterprise model to the East Garfield Park Area. After meeting with many key stakeholders in the community, we were encouraged that so many people embraced our desire to develop a job training program and a family friendly restaurant in a much deserved area.

"The new Inspiration Kitchen’s Garfield Park Café will help people who are affected by homelessness and poverty to improve their lives and increase self-sufficiency through the provision of social services and employment training,” Pfeiffer added.

Photo: Ed Finkel

Interns Silvania Givens and Keyon Poindexter take a break from slicing bread and other prep work during a busy lunch shift.

Inspiration Kitchens expects to serve 7,000 meals in its first year of operation. Half of these meals will be affordably priced to attract community members who don’t have many options for great dining in this area. The other half will be provided for free through community partners such as schools, religious congregations and other nonprofit organizations.

With construction underway, this LEED-certified restaurant space will be full service, offering lunch and dinner options to patrons and local businesses.  Job readiness and vocational training will be provided to 125 people, and at current rates, at least 50 of those students will go on to enter the workforce within a year of finishing the program.

The Café will be able to accommodate groups or private parties for up to 60 people as well as catering for off-site events.  Visitors to the Garfield Park Conservatory are sure to enjoy the convenience of being able to walk just a block east to enjoy the experience. They will undoubtedly be tempted by a creative healthy meal selection.

Photo: Ed Finkel

Margaret Haywood and Diane Pascal of Inspiration Corp. say they don't want "pity patronage" at Cafe Too and work to keep the quality of food and service in line with what people expect elsewhere.

“The program will showcase the talents of our trainees by providing the local community and destination diners with healthy, affordable and delicious ethnically inspired cuisine. Our 80-seat restaurant will feature menu items ranging from upscale southern cuisine to favorites from the Caribbean, which will provide enough variety to please a wide range of tastes,” according to Eric Merideth, general manager.

Inspiration Kitchens, the newest member of the Garfield Park Business Network, has already begun making inroads with local schools, day care centers and community institutions regarding their mission and fantastic menu.  Their linkages with the community are sure to deepen. 

More than just a sit-down restaurant, their commitment to job readiness, healthy foods and land investment in Garfield Park make them a standout as a unique catalyst for economic development. We look forward to seeing you at 3504 W. Lake next spring!

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