Edward Kim, the chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Chicago restaurants Mott St and Ruxbin isn’t in the restaurant business just to serve paying customers.
Edward Kim, the chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Chicago restaurants Mott St and Ruxbin isn’t in the restaurant business just to serve paying customers. Since opening Ruxbin in 2010 and Mott St in 2013, he and his business partners—his wife, Jenny Kim, and his sister Vicki Kim—all wanted to collaborate with community groups in their neighborhood, Chicago’s perennially up-and-coming Noble Square.
This past spring, Vicki learned about a mentoring program called GRIP Outreach for Youth. GRIP works with Wells Community Academy High School, which happens to stand smack in the middle between the Kims’ two restaurants. Flash forward a half-year, and they’ve already partnered on three projects and counting:
1. Restaurant mentoring: More than a dozen staff members from both restaurants have signed on as one-on-one mentors for high school students.
2. Student employment: Edward regularly invites Wells students to come do a two- or three-day stage at his restaurants, to try out the culinary life. “If they can prove to me they want to be here, then I pay them,” he says. “I don’t want anyone working here for free.” A few decide the kitchen is not for them. But this summer he hired one student as a prep cook and dishwasher at Ruxbin, and a recent graduate as a server at Mott St.
3. Produce buying: This past spring, GRIP asked chef Kim for advice on a potential gardening program at the school. After considering what his restaurants could use—and what the kids could grow in Chicago’s short season—he suggested they try planting microgreens. But he made it clear to the students that he’d only buy ones as good as those he usually bought for both restaurants. “I really wanted to teach them that this is not charity,” he said. “I’m not giving them a handout.” The students grew the first crop in the windows of a classroom. “The first time they brought them over, I was shocked,” Edward says. “They were better than the ones we’d been getting. I was so happy.”