Our first incarnation was Cafe Too, a restaurant skills training program launched in 2001 through Inspiration Corporation. By 2005, Cafe Too had grown into a freestanding restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood, where our students put what they’ve learned into practice serving the general public. Now we’re excited to take our program to our second freestanding restaurant in Garfield Park.
Overlooking the Garfield Park lagoons, the restaurant features a constantly changing menu of regional American cuisine with southern and soul food influences. At Inspiration Kitchens-Garfield Park, we pride ourselves on being earth-friendly, including our use of local ingredients, solar-heated water and sun-sensitive kitchen lighting. Enjoy brunch with a view of the trees, and our family dining area – located just off the main dining room – is perfect for larger parties. Ask for it when you’re making your reservation.
From roasted red pepper wantons to chorizo croquettes and chicken and waffles, our menu reflects the diverse, urban Uptown neighborhood in which we’re located. Our intimate, 30-seat restaurant is perfect for a business lunch or a BYOB brunch with friends. In warm weather, sit outside at our sidewalk café.
Inspiration Corporation provides essential social services to Chicagoans hardest hit by homelessness and poverty, and we inspire our participants to take action to improve their own lives. Here at Inspiration Kitchens, we help individuals gain valuable skills and experience that lead to employment in the food service industry. Thank you for dining with us and changing lives!
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"I try to be an inspiration..."
"It may be a little program to everybody else, but it's the world to me."
“I was able to start my life over again...and that’s a blessing in itself.”
“If people want to improve their quality of life, Inspiration is the place to go.”
Student Stories |
Arnold’s story began in the far Southside of Chicago. “As I was growing up, I always used to seek a thrill.” The fast paced life he lived as a child and teenager was “the lifestyle that I chose for myself at an early age, not knowing I was headed for destruction…even coming from a good family upbringing.” Arnold felt consumed by his thrill-seeking lifestyle, and his party mentality and criminal involvement eventually led him to become homeless. He began frequenting Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood.
During this time, Arnold noticed a construction project starting on Lake Street. That site would eventually become Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park, one of Inspiration Corporation’s social enterprise restaurants and the home of our Foodservice Training program, which provides 100 people each year with 13-weeks of hands-on culinary instruction supported by individualized case management for those facing barriers to self-sufficiency. “I never knew that they were building the foundation over there that would change my life.”
After some time, Arnold secured transitional housing but still, “needed something positive to belong to; I was still searching at that point.” He spotted an Inspiration Corporation brochure on the bulletin board in his building and was curious yet cautious as he felt his criminal background was an insurmountable barrier to employment. Words of encouragement from a friend motivated Arnold to try the program, and he eventually enrolled and graduated in 2012.
Since graduating, Arnold has secured employment at Green Tomato Cafe and also continues to work part-time at Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park. “I look forward to getting up in the morning. I’m anxious to get here.” Arnold’s positive influence does not stop with the changes in his own life. Thankful for his newfound opportunities, Arnold is dedicated to motivating new students in the Foodservice Training program so they can experience the same success. “They are a reflection of where I started. I try to be a light. I try to be an inspiration.”
Student Stories |
Born and raised in Englewood, Latepa started down the path of rebellion around age 14. She was incarcerated at 16, but jail time pushed Latepa to better herself – she completed anger management classes, received her GED, and was able to reduce her sentence due to good behavior. Despite her hard work, Latepa felt frustrated and out of options upon her release from prison. Struggling to maintain stable employment, she returned to a life of crime that would continue for the next several years. It wasn’t until she was 24 that a series of encounters led her through Inspiration Corporation’s doors and onto a path of positive change.
Just days before Christmas 2014, Latepa boarded a CTA train with the intention of committing a crime. Her plans were interrupted by a stranger who handed her a flier including a list of social service agencies. Inspiration Corporation was at the top of the list, and Latepa called immediately. She ended up speaking with one of the case managers for so long that she missed her stop, and by the end of the call she was on the schedule to attend an orientation for our 9-week Foodservice Training program. “I saw the chefs in their chef hats, and I wanted that.”
As soon as she graduated the Foodservice Training program in May 2015, Latepa was offered a transitional job at Inspiration Kitchens – Uptown, which quickly turned into a permanent position. In August, she also began working at the University Center – a state-of-the-art residence hall in downtown Chicago – where she works in the cafeteria alongside 150 other employees. Looking toward the future, she hopes to be a sous chef, and possibly even an executive chef someday.
Latepa has nothing but gratitude for the opportunities provided to her, and she gives back by inspiring others with her story. “It may be a little program to everybody else, but it’s the world to me.”
Student Stories |
Before coming to Inspiration Corporation, Jessica was taking a sobriety class at Dawson Skill Center where she collaborated with an employment skills counselor. Her counselor discovered Inspiration Corporation’s Foodservice Training program online and encouraged her to enroll. Jessica went to an orientation and took the required tests. The first time Jessica came to orientation and took the required reading and math exams, she fell just short of passing. However, she came back undeterred two weeks later to retake the tests and passed.
Upon entering the program, Jessica had a basic knowledge of cooking passed down to her by her mother. She quickly learned how to properly use a knife and other cooking techniques. Jessica’s favorite part of the culinary training program was getting the opportunity to cook dishes that she had never been able to cook or eat before, like pizza, for example! Jessica graduated from the culinary training program in January of 2014. She has been employed with Inspiration Kitchens – Uptown since April of 2014.
The Inspiration Kitchens culinary training program has had a profound impact on Jessica’s life. In the past, Jessica had always been taken care of by her friends and family. “The fact is, I enjoyed going through the program and when I got a chance to work and become independent,” Jessica says. By learning basic culinary skills and on the job training, Jessica has learned how to cook for herself at home and can now lead an independent lifestyle.
Jessica hopes to remain independent and to get a place of her own soon. She loves working at Inspiration Kitchens Uptown, and can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next. According to Jessica, “I was able to start my life over again….and that’s a blessing in itself.”
Student Stories |
When he’s not cooking for diners at Inspiration Kitchens - Garfield Park, Richard can often be seen visiting with friends at Inspiration Cafe. His friendly demeanor and positive attitude stand out, but Richard says that he didn’t always exude the positivity that he’s known for in the our community. For him, the agency's impact goes beyond employment assistance and warm meals. He feels his experience in the Employment Preparation Training (EPT) workshop helped him to focus more on positive thinking, and the socialization that comes with regular visits to the cafe have played a huge role in this transformation, especially since he lives alone. “Right now, I have a more positive attitude than I have in my entire life."
It’s clear from speaking with Richard that he has a strong work ethic and a great deal of ambition. “I’ve always worked hard, it’s just that sometimes things don’t work out.” After growing up in Chicago, he left for Milwaukee to attend college before tuition prices forced him to drop out and return to Chicago. At that time, Richard was a live-in caretaker for his aunt and uncle. When they both died within a couple of years of each other, he had to move out and look for other work. A referral brought him to Inspiration Corporation in May of 2012, where his first impression was that the “staff were very friendly and supportive,” and that this was a place where he was able to thrive. He recalls that everyone could see how hard he was trying, so he felt like he was treated with a lot of respect, even when he was anxious about the work he was doing.
As for the future, Richard would like to find a permanent position in a vegan restaurant where he can be a line and food prep cook until retirement. While he has his work ethic and positive attitude to thank for much of his success, he credits Inspiration Corporation for giving him the tools to get there. “If people want to improve their quality of life, Inspiration is the place to go.”