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We Haven't Seen The Last Of Cleetus Friedman

By Lorna Juett in Food on Jan 30, 2013 7:00PM

Photo Via Christina Noel

While the closing of City Provisions is a shock to locavores and foodies around Chicago, I can say with conviction that Cleetus Friedman won’t be hanging up his apron so easily. I know this personally, as when I first entertained a career focused on food and beverage, I interned in his kitchen one day a week and eventually landed a full-time job as his right hand administrative and catering sales lady. It wasn’t always easy, but I loved my job.

After almost three years, countless sweaty farm dinners, and a lot of heart-to heart conversations, Cleetus let me go. I did what anyone else would do and filed for unemployment. An unemployment agent called to verify some facts, and she asked me why I thought I got fired. I gave the usual reasons, and she asked, “can I tell you what your boss said?” Of course, being a glutton for punishment, I agreed. Cleetus had told her, “Lorna lacked passion.”

“Lacked passion.” The phrase rang in my head for months. I couldn’t understand. I was very involved in the business, felt ownership, believed in the mission of sustainability and local food. To hear I “lacked passion” was a blow. But I grew to see it another way. Cleetus wanted me to match his intensity, because he knew I had it in me. Eventually I grew proud of the notion that he thought I might have even a fraction of his drive. Of course, to match him would be impossible, there there are very few people who can.

What’s more, is that not only does Cleetus have the passion, he also has the drive and wherewithal to succeed. I won’t speculate as to what didn’t work within the business, that’s for Cleetus to know. Of course the thought that “sustainability - an undying commitment to what that means - wasn't sustainable” is heartbreaking to both the lay-localvore and those more committed to sustainable eating. I won’t make conjectures as to what is next for him (a replacement for Alpana Singh on Check Please, perhaps?), but he will land on his feet, stronger and wiser. He’s just got to.

Aside from his passion for what he believes in, Cleetus’ greatest asset is his ability to connect people not only to their food, but also to one another. He’s been a conduit for many relationships, both in business and personal sectors, and to that effect, he’s owed a karmic connection of his own that just might lead to his next venture.

As a friend of Cleetus and a supporter of local food in general, I confidently believe that while this chapter of his business life has ended, there’s clearly more awaiting him. Perhaps this is the time we should all start saying, “we knew him when.”