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

AllSquareFRONT

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.”


Red hot chili cook-off

It’s that time of year again…when we enthusiastically pull out our slow cookers, grab our spoons and gather together in the kitchen for our annual chili cook-off! This year’s competitors included a Queso Chicken Chili, Vegetarian Chili and Spicy Chorizo Butternut Squash Chili.

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We loaded up our bowls with chili and piled on the toppings: cheese, green onions, cilantro, sour cream and avocado. And of course, there were plenty of chips for dipping! As we stuffed our faces sampled the chili, we debated the merits of chips vs. cornbread (both awesome) and had a hearty discussion about which Fritos are better: regular or scoops (scoops, obv).

After we had all enjoyed seconds and thirds, we cast our votes and went back to our desks to take Tums wait for the results.

And the winner was…Kelsey’s Queso Chicken Chili!

This cheesy white chili is packed with chicken, beans and chili peppers for a Mexican twist. It’s flavorful, but not too spicy – chili perfection! Another successful chili cook-off in the books, and another great chili recipe to add to your collection. Try it for yourself and you’ll thank us later.

queso chicken chili

Kelsey’s Queso Chicken Chili

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cans Great Northern beans (2 cans mashed, 2 cans whole beans)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 8 ounces queso cheese, shredded

 

Directions:

  • In large stock pot cook chicken in butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove and let cool. When cooled enough to touch, shred with two forks and set aside.
  • In same pot, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté onion over medium heat until softened. Add poblano peppers and garlic; sauté until onions are browned.
  • Rinse and drain beans. Mash 2 cans of the beans, leave 2 cans whole. (The mashed beans give the chili a wonderful creaminess!)
  • Add beans to the pot, along with the chicken stock and spices; simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.
  • Add shredded chicken, green chiles and lime juice; simmer for 20 more minutes.
  • Add queso and stir until cheese is melted.
  • Top with your favorite fixings!

 

Topping suggestions:

  • Sour cream
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Tortilla strips
  • More shredded queso!

 

 


5th annual chili cook-off

It’s one of our favorite work events of the year – our annual chili cook-off. This year we had six worthy contenders, ranging from classic Grandma-style chili to a noteworthy Thai-inspired vegetarian lentil chili.

All six competitors lugged their crock pots into the office that morning with high hopes of victory; the rest of us pitched in by supplying an impressive amount of chili toppings. Stomachs were growling all morning long as delicious smells wafted from the kitchen throughout the office. The struggle is real, folks. #foodmarketingproblems

Chili Cook Off Topping PrepChili Cook Off ToppingsChili Cook Off Serving

By lunchtime, we all bolted into the kitchen for some serious chili sampling. Avocados were chopped. Sour cream was scooped. Cheese was sprinkled. And don’t even get us started on the to-die-for cornbread croutons. Bowls were loaded up and refilled multiple times – proof that we’ve got some talented chili makers in-house!

Every employee voted for their top three chilis, but only one could come out on top. The winner: Tim Souther’s Chipotle Adobo Chili, filled with savory grass-fed ground beef, pinto beans and peppers, with just enough spice to keep things interesting. Try it for yourself!

Chili Cook Off Tim's Winning Chili

Tim’s Award-Winning Grass-Fed Chipotle Adobo Chili

Servings: 10-12
Preparation time: Around 6 hours

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces dried pinto beans
  • 1 (12-ounce) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sweet white onions, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 ¼ pounds grass-fed ground beef
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans fire-roasted tomatoes

Directions:

  • Quick soak the dried beans.
    • Dump beans into colander. Check for, and remove, any stones or debris. Rinse.
    • Transfer to the saucepan and cover with 2 inches cold water. Bring the water to a boil, cook for 2 minutes. Remove them from heat and cover with lid.
    • Soak for at least 1 hour. Drain.
  • Remove chipotle peppers from adobo sauce and mince them. Save the sauce.
  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; sauté onions and red peppers until the onions are soft.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds or so.
  • Add the minced chipotle peppers and cumin.
  • Add ground beef; brown the meat, leaving the pieces fairly large. Season with a few pinches salt and pepper.
  • Dump in the tomatoes, pinto beans and adobo sauce.
  • Simmer for however long your heart tells you (I let mine go for about 5 hours, then transferred to a crock pot and let it go for another few).

Topping suggestions:

  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Cornbread croutons
  • Green onions

We love our taste tests around here.