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e.a.t. spots to improve Chicago Food System

Thu, Sep 11, 2014

eat spots employee training 2Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced the first-ever City of Chicago Emerging Business Permit to e.a.t spots, a local non-profit organization that seeks to improve the Chicago food system through “education,” “agriculture” and “technology.” Starting August 19, e.a.t. spots will transform vacant newsstands to offer chef-driven street food and mini-farmers markets, and will create 14 new jobs in the process. The Emerging Business Permit was created as part of business licensing reform in 2012 in order to allow new, innovative businesses to launch when activities don’t fall under the current license structure.

“I am committed to working with local businesses to ensure that Chicago is a friendly place to do business,” Emanuel said. “e.a.t. spots is a great example of what can happen when City Hall partners with the business community and remains flexible to meet their needs, allowing business owners to focus on what they need to – growing their business and creating jobs in our neighborhoods.”

e.a.t. spots is a collaboration of e.a.t.Chicago, Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a home and office food delivery that sources food locally; and StreetWise, a non-profit that helps men and women find stability in employment.

“At e.a.t., our mission is to increase awareness of healthy, local food and to make it accessible to everyone,” said Ken Waagner, founder and CEO of e.a.t. Chicago. “e.a.t. spots is our first platform to deliver on our mission and we are thrilled to launch this innovative micro-retail concept with the City of Chicago, StreetWise and Fresh Picks.”

The e.a.t. spots menu was created by Chef Shaw Lash, a former chef for Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, and will offer nutritious wraps, salads, fresh snacks, fruits and vegetables, primarily sourced from six to eight local farms and businesses. Breakfast items include a tofu scramble wrap, local Greek yogurt, and gluten-free muffins, while lunch items include an Asian kale salad with pickled shiitake mushrooms and Thai chicken wraps made with sprouted ancient grain tortillas.

The first of the four pilot locations will open at 360 W. Madison (at Wacker) and will be open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The remaining e.a.t. spots will open in fall at three abandoned newsstands in the central business district, with ad-ditional locations planned for Chicago neighborhoods in 2015.

The Transitional Job Program (TJP) at StreetWise is a two-week program that offers guidance and training surrounding job placement: anything from interviews to resumes to applications, for free. It is for people who wish to be even more entrepreneurial than StreetWise magazine vendors, although there is some crossover, said Sarah Brown, director of social work there.

The StreetWise TJP program involves first a staff person on the front end who teaches the 40 hours of job readiness. The second staff position is a field supervisor who can mediate if a new hire from the TJP program has issues such as attendance, for example. This position means that StreetWise can offer a prospective employer the incentive of both field supervision and subsidized employment. The third position in the TJP program is a job developer, who connects employers with TJP participants.

For Val Rodriguez, Erin Biers and Malcolm Curtis, the e.a.t. spots offer not only the opportunity to sustain themselves after long periods of unemployment, but also a second chance at life. Val and Erin will share shifts at the first food stand while Mal-colm works in the e.a.t. spots produce warehouse.

Val was homeless after she was unable to secure work while attending school for medical assistance; with the stability of e.a.t. spots, she plans to return to her education. Erin was a police dispatcher, a job she describes as “one of the most trustful jobs that there ever could have been.” However, she was laid off in April 2013 and was forced to dig into her retirement fund while job searching.

“I didn’t think that it would be so hard,” Erin said of the job market. “This job is a stepping stone. It’s always good to broaden and grow in different areas in life, it’s always good to venture into something new, because you gain a lot of growth that way. I think that the program here is really good for people who need a second chance.”

Malcolm Curtis became homeless after quitting his job at the Great Lakes Naval Base to care for his terminally ill mother. Though he lived with her in her final months, he lost the house upon her death.

While living on the street working assorted odd jobs, Curtis met a self-employed truck driver who hired him as an assistant. 12 years on the open road inspired Curtis’s dream to own and operate his own truck. However, in 2013 when his partner returned to his home country in Eastern Europe, Curtis was again left homeless.

This time he had a plan; he would save money until he could afford a commercial drivers license (CDL) and then operate a truck of his own.

With this in mind, he began vending StreetWise and eventually became involved in the Transitional Jobs Program. He now has a janitorial job at the e.a.t. produce warehouse in Niles; he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. daily to be there by 7 a.m. He’s off work by 3 p.m. and goes to Harold Washington Library to do research, so he figures he can fit in two hours of class at night.
“I’m on that road, I’m going to get it, I am,” Curtis said of his goal.

By Justin Jia, Emma Peters and Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editorial Interns and Editor-In-Chief

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