Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Good food, a good cause at one of Longfellow’s newest eateries

Posted on 28 October 2018 by calvin

As an attorney, Emily Hunt Turner spent six years in New Orleans, working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, trying to help former prisoners readjust to society. What she found was that those with criminal records had problems finding housing, getting work and being able to again join society as a productive and contributing members. Even those who have paid their debts to society years before—sometimes decades before—were still facing discrimination.

Turner was originally from Wahpeton, ND. In 2002, she moved to New York to begin her studies in architecture at Syracuse University. While there, she started to notice inadequate and rundown housing was adversely affecting the lives of the people who had to live those houses and apartments.

This was a revelation that effected Turner as well, and she decided to get her Master’s degree in public policy. From there, she moved to New Orleans for law school and then, signed on with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, working on prisoner reentry, housing discrimination and housing segregation in post-Katrina New Orleans.

After moving to Minnesota, she hoped to create ways to help Minnesotans who faced the same problems she’d seen in New Orleans, something she said she considered one of the biggest civil rights issues the country is facing.

She came up with a novel idea. Settling into a former vintage store on Minnehaha Ave., she set out to open a non-profit restaurant that would hire only those with criminal records. She set up a 43-day Kickstarter program and discovered that there were a lot of people in the community ready to support her idea. She raised more than $60,000, $10,000 higher than her original goal. She also managed to get several grants from the Minneapolis Foundation, Seward Redesign and other organizations, raising another $70,000.

Photo right: Yeng Thao grills up one of Four Square’s signature cheese sandwiches. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

With all her education, she found that she knew almost nothing about starting a business, how to run a nonprofit or how to run a neighborhood restaurant. But, she had an idea, one that she thought would be a hit. She would open a restaurant that would employ only those with criminal records, giving them a purpose, training and a chance to join society again.

The menu, she decided, would be upscale grilled cheese sandwiches of various types. The restaurant would be called ‘All Square,’ a play on words for both the restaurant’s square sandwiches and the goal of making things all square for those who worked there.

All Square opened in September. The employees work 30-hour weeks and are paid $14 an hour, plus tips, while they learn skills. On Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, Turner brings in experts to teach classes on entrepreneurship, business, online work, and even basic finances. There is also a chance for workers to learn basic criminal law and justice reform.

Turner, who claims she hates to cook, convinced Sarah Masters, a semi-finalist on ABC television’s ‘The Taste,’ to come up with recipes and got together with Heather Bray and Jodi Ayres, owners of Lowbrow, who were happy to advise how to operate a restaurant. And, she lobbied local cheese producer Crystal Farms, who donated a year’s worth of cheese, giving the restaurant a financial head start.

Inside, the 850 square foot restaurant is sunny and bright, with colorful touches, large windows and mirrors to reflect the sunlight. A chalkboard at the entrance lists the sandwich choices, including four vegetarian sandwiches. Cheese is the star, pork is the co-star, but there are choices for any taste, including gluten-free and vegan. The most expensive sandwiches are $8. A kid’s sandwich is $5.

Photo left: Angel Usher takes a lunch order from two customers. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Popular choices are the Jerk Chicken, a combo with rotisserie chicken and Swiss cheese, provolone, guava jam, and Jamaican jerk sauce. The Charcuterie combines brie, onion jam, prosciutto, and almonds. The Pesto sandwich is a mozzarella, provolone sandwich with pesto and fresh basil. All are grilled, so the cheese is melted and gooey.

“They are super responsive to feedback,” says customer Scot Harris, who brought co-worker Ryan Schaefer for lunch at one of the restaurant’s outdoor tables. “I came in and made the suggestion for a vegan sandwich and the very next week, it was there.”

“I’m not vegan,” said Schaefer. “They have a good variety of sandwiches, and they are pretty good. We work for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, helping homeless veterans, so we understand and support their mission. And, we like to support small local businesses.”

Those at All Square like to point out that everyone has violated the law at some point, but most have been lucky not to have to face consequences for their actions. But, sometimes, even a minor mistake can follow someone their entire life.

Photo right: Scot Harris and Ryan, Schaefer, Eemployment Specialists from the nearby Assistance Council for Veterans, enjoy their sandwiches on a warm October day. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

The restaurant sells a book, “We Are All Criminals,” which tells of people who committed crimes and were never caught or punished—things like smoking marijuana or public drunkenness.

You can also buy t-shirts saying, “Don’t judge. Just eat.”

At the restaurant, at the beginning of the day, the workers are smiling, learning to work as a team. Some will advance to management and then, when they graduate from the program after 13 months, many could start their own business or move to a commercial restaurant to manage there. Then, a new coalition of new workers will join together at All Square, looking for a way for re-entry, a second chance, and a new, better life.

You can find All Square at 4047 Minnehaha Ave. They are opened Tuesday through Sunday, 11am-9pm., closed each day between 3-4pm.

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