Comfort Food That Gives Back: All-Square Restaurant & Institute

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When we create something that helps a business sell food, that makes us feel great. But when our work also helps people succeed…well, that’s even better.

That’s why we’re thrilled to work with All Square, a Minneapolis non-profit institute whose mission is to empower, educate and employ formerly incarcerated individuals – via a craft grilled cheese restaurant.

Founder Emily Hunt Turner, a civil rights attorney in Minneapolis, wanted to create a project in which former prisoners would participate, partly run and directly benefit from the operation. She also really loved grilled cheese. One day, inspiration struck her, she combined her two passions, and the concept of All Square was born.

Located in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, All Square features a delightful menu filled with artisan grilled cheese sandwiches, from basic Four-Cheese to sweet-and-savory Hawaiian and spicy Jerk Chicken, along with a variety of rotating seasonal recipes and sandwiches inspired by the All Square participants themselves. It’s comfort-food at its finest – a must-try if you’re in the Twin Cities area!

But even more impressive is what’s behind the walls of the restaurant: the All Square Institute, a professional development institute that allows All Square Fellows, formerly incarcerated individuals, to earn a living wage and give them the skills and social capital necessary for a bright and productive future.

All Square’s Development & Operations Manager Tommy Harris explains, “Many of our Fellows are pigeonholed into low-wage jobs. We’re trying to help them actively locate their true interests. Our ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism. In order for these folks to succeed, they need to feel meaningfully included in society.”

The Institute’s 12-month program consists of three phases. Phase 1 includes training in restaurant skills and customer relations. Phase 2 helps the Fellows develop a professional foundation, including resume writing, interview skills, and the creation of a career plan. “Phase 3 helps them lay the groundwork for actually executing their plan,” Tommy continues, “We partner the Fellows with folks in their desired career path for hands-on mentoring. We have partners in law schools, business, marketing…pretty much every career field.”

The All-Square Institute deliberately sets a beginning and end date for program participants. “We want to involve formerly incarcerated people not only in our environment but also in greater society, so that requires re-entry,” Tommy explains. “Our Fellows are required to graduate with a business career educational plan so when they graduate on Friday, they know exactly what they’re going to do on Monday.”

Ingredient recently filmed and produced a promotional video for All Square’s Grilled Cheese for Life (GCFL) campaign: a one-time payment that allowed members to enjoy all the grilled cheese they can eat, for the rest of their life. All the proceeds from GCFL directly helped support All Square’s mission to empower people to overcome barriers, develop personal and professional skills, and become gainfully employed.

Up to this point, the majority of the All Square venture has been community funded, and with strong mentors, enthusiastic participants, and fantastic sandwiches, the Institute has a bright future. “Food brings people together!” Tommy smiles, “That’s a huge part of what All Square is.”