Uptown's Inspiration Kitchens Is Closing, And The State Budget Crisis Didn't Help

By Mae Rice in Food on Jul 14, 2016 5:03PM

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Photo via Google Streetview

Uptown's Inspiration Kitchens (4715 N. Sheridan Road) will shut down after brunch on July 31, leadership announced on Tuesday. The non-profit restaurant, which has a social justice mission and has been an Uptown fixture for a decade, has become financially unsustainable—due, in part, to that year Illinois spent without a state budget (that's only sort of come to close).

Shannon Stewart, executive director of Inspiration Kitchens' parent non-profit, Inspiration Corporation, wrote in a statement obtained by Uptown Update on Tuesday:

In 2014, we lost more than $350,000 in federal funding for our Foodservice Training program in Uptown... The following year saw cuts to funding from the State of Illinois for similar programs, culminating in an entire fiscal year without a state budget.

We can no longer justify the cost of running Inspiration Kitchens - Uptown, which as a full-service restaurant carries high fixed costs with low profit-margins.

This is a serious loss for Uptown and all of Chicago, not only because Inspiration Kitchens was a really good restaurant (with a daily pancake special!) but because it helped recently homeless Chicagoans, graduates of the company's food service training program, acquire on-the-job food service experience. Stewart told Chicagoist that the current staff, besides the executive chef, consists entirely of alumni of the training program.

The state budget impasse didn't bring the restaurant to an end directly, but it did put a "burden" on Inspiration Corporation, Stewart said. Inspiration Corporation provides housing and job training to the Chicago area's homeless population, and the lack of state funding hit their housing program most directly. But that, in turn, "put a strain on other flexible funding that comes in." They had to use flexible funding and a line of credit to survive the past year.

That problem was only compounded by federal funding cuts, which Inspiration Corporation suffered after the 2013 sequester. "There were tons of cuts across the board," Stewart said. "The ones that impacted us... came through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development." They shifted their funding for homeless services towards housing, specifically, and away from job-training, which they deemed "support services." Uptown's Inspiration Kitchens had to close its food service training program the next summer, due to a lack of funding; nowadays, all Inspiration Corporation's food-service training happens at Inspiration Kitchens' Garfield Park location.

The news isn't all bad, however. Inspiration Corporation is discussing launching a new Inspiration Kitchens project in Uptown next year with an unnamed partner. For now, they will continue to run their Inspiration Kitchens location in Garfield Park (at 3504 W. Lake St.), and they'll maintain a presence in Uptown through Inspiration Cafe (at 4554 N Broadway Street in Suite #407, less than half a mile from Inspiration Kitchens). At Inspiration Cafe, a reimagined soup kitchen, a volunteer waitstaff serves hot, custom meals to Chicago's homeless in "an atmosphere of dignity and respect."

[H/T Eater Chicago]