GREATER GRAND CROSSING — A workers’ co-op that employs formerly incarcerated people to prepare meals for schools and social service centers will soon move into its own South Side facility.
ChiFresh Kitchen is preparing to expand from its roots in a West Side business incubator to a former convenience store at 400 E. 71st St. in Greater Grand Crossing.
The 6,125-square-foot space will include room to produce 5,000 meals per day for the kitchen’s clients. A small storefront will offer breakfast sandwiches and other hot foods, branded gear designed by co-op members and more.
ChiFresh Kitchen also plans to allow local urban farmers and business owners of color to offer goods out of the retail space and share its spare cold storage with other community groups. The facility is set to open in the next five months.
“Our plans for the building are also to hire more people, bring in more customers, bring in more clients, more contracts and more opportunities for individuals in the community,” founding member Daniel McWilliams said.
ChiFresh Kitchen has operated out of food business incubator The Hatchery, 135 N. Kedzie Ave., since its launch during the pandemic.
The company makes several hundred meals per day for its regular clients, including the Montessori School of Englewood, the Grace House for formerly incarcerated women on the Near West Side and Hope House transitional housing in North Lawndale.
The new space will allow that daily output to drastically increase, said Camille Kerr, a consultant who helped launch and manage ChiFresh Kitchen.
Co-op members hope to scale up to make 5,000 meals daily over the next two years. Such an expansion will require new employees.
“Our team is committed to hiring formerly incarcerated folks” and locals, Kerr said. The company could grow to “between 30 and 40, even up to 50 people in that facility once we get to that 5,000-meal mark.”
All employees are eligible for an ownership stake in ChiFresh Kitchen after 18 months on the job, after which they can start paying toward a $2,000 membership share. Members serve on the co-op’s board, have a vote in business decisions and can receive dividends if the company is profitable, Kerr said.
The organization is set to receive $250,000 through the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund for the move.
ChiFresh Kitchen also received a $100,000 grant from the American Heart Association’s Social Impact Fund last fall, awarded for the company’s effort to address health inequalities.
The co-op’s work was featured on an NBA on TNT segment in March, where Chicago native Dwyane Wade spoke on his mother’s friendship with ChiFresh Kitchen member Sarah Stadtfeld.
“I feel like we got a lot of notoriety just from our networking and from people on the South Side,” McWilliams said. “Our food was just spoken highly of, and everybody caught the wave of what we were doing.”
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