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Chefs Make Change

A Steak House Scion's Amazing Do-Good Restaurant

Amy Morton (L) and Nicole Pederson (R) of Found Kitchen & Social House. © Huge Galdones

Amy Morton may have restaurants coded into her DNA. Her father, Arnie, founded Morton’s The Steakhouse, and her brothers oversee their own famous restaurant chains. But she took a 15-year break from the industry before she opened Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Illinois, in November 2012. What inspired her return? “I could not envision going back to work without doing something that gave back,” Morton said. She’d open a restaurant only if she could make it a hub for social change.

In this, Morton was partly influenced by her father. “My dad was committed to mentoring kids from more marginalized backgrounds, giving them opportunities, whether dining in his restaurants or helping them find internships and jobs,” she said. “I think I was born with this idea that giving back is not only my obligation, but a privilege.”

Her community focus helped her recruit chef Nicole Pederson, a veteran of Gramercy Tavern in New York City. “The philanthropic aspect was a huge draw for me,” Pederson said. “Because you spend at least 90 hours a week at a restaurant—at the end of the day, it’s got to be more than just a restaurant.”

Only two years in, they have already successfully trained people coming out of homelessness as dishwashers and prep cooks. Through their First Mondays, they have helped area organizations raise needed funds. On the first Monday of every month, they offer the restaurant—including Pederson and a reduced crew—to local nonprofits at cost, for fund-raisers or donor thank-you dinners. In October 2013, they launched a traveling dinner series they call Movable Feasts, in which they collaborate with other Chicagoland culinary leaders to raise money for local philanthropies. No ordinary charitable one-offs, these are artfully designed to spark maximum conversation about the beneficiary. The next dinner, scheduled for May 20, will benefit the Inspiration Corporation, which annually assists thousands of people affected by poverty and homelessness. Playing on the organization’s name and mission, Pederson has invited four of the chefs who have inspired her the most—including Jason Hammel of Chicago’s Lula Café—asking each to prepare a dish that inspires them. The five-course dinner will take place at Inspiration Corporation’s own social enterprise restaurant, Inspiration Kitchens.

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