BUCKTOWN — Gigi’s Kitchen has closed after a year in the Bucktown neighborhood.
Owner and chef Gigi Downing closed the restaurant at 1954 W. Armitage Ave. on Wednesday. It opened in Dec. 2018.
Downing initially opened Gigi’s with the goal of weaving together her two passions: behavioral health support and cooking.
After a year of balancing 80-hour work weeks with trying to start a family, Downing said she is taking a step back from the restaurant industry.
“I feel like I did everything I could to just keep it going,” she said. “It became really, really hard to run an independent neighborhood restaurant. Especially for me, being a young woman trying to raise a family.”
Downing said closing Gigi’s Kitchen will allow her to focus her time and energy on creating an organization dedicated to helping women experiencing trauma.
With a focus on healing through cooking, such an organization would also offer comprehensive hospitality training and job placement and intensive support services to women, Downing said.
“My mission was to create a space for women in trauma,” she said. “When I started my culinary journey, I wanted to teach cooking as a healing experience for women in trauma.”
Downing dreamed of helping women heal through cooking while working as a behavioral health coordinator.
From 2012-2016, Downing coordinated services for patients at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, an inpatient facility serving children, teenagers, adults and the elderly.
While working at the hospital, Downing recognized a gap in the healthcare system for women experiencing trauma and violence.
She wished there was something for women like Inspiration Kitchens, a nonprofit helping homeless folks in East Garfield Park. Inspiration Kitchens serves as a cooking school, caterer and job incubator, with a restaurant onsite.
Downing left her job at the hospital to enroll in culinary school.
At the end of 2018, Downing founded Gigi’s, five blocks away from her home in Bucktown. The restaurant replaced AMK Kitchen, which opened in 2015 and closed in the summer of 2018.
Downing moved to Chicago from Brazil when she was 20 years old. She described her dishes as “American with Latin flair,” combining elements like garlic sauce and seasonal vegetables such as pomegranates and squash.
Around the time Gigi’s opened, Downing and her husband began their journey of using the IVF method to conceive children. Since opening the restaurant, Downing realized she has been left with little time to focus on her initial goal.
Though her time as a restaurant owner had come to a close, Downing said she’s grateful for the experience.
Gigi’s Kitchen allowed her to become more involved with the Bucktown community; she hosted fundraisers for local schools and memorial services for grieving neighbors.
She also had several conversations with women about her IVF journey.
“This whole year has been wonderful and joyous,” she said. “It’s been a privilege and an honor to be part of those snippets in time of all those families.
“I am so grateful for all the people who worked hard to make this dream of mine a reality. … Saying goodbye to Gigi’s is not saying goodbye to those friendships and experiences for me.”
Looking ahead, Downing aspires to create her organization.
“I really really hope this next step lets me focus on this mission,” she said. “There are a lot of smart capable people in Chicago. It’s just putting all those pieces together, really.”
Those interested in learning more about her work can contact Downing via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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