A nonprofit restaurant on the city's west side helps struggling Chicagoans find a path to self-reliance
plated food at inspiration kitchen chicago
Credit: Courtesy of Steven E. Gross & Associates Photography

With its wooden tables, concrete floors, colorful accent walls, and a menu of modern favorites like brioche French toast, goat cheese omelets, and stacks of fluffy pancakes, Chicago's Inspiration Kitchens looks and feels a lot like any other popular brunch spot in a city that can't seem to get enough of the classic weekend meal.

There's a slight difference here, though—actually, a pretty big one. Inspiration Kitchens isn't just a great place to eat in a slowly-gentrifying West Side neighborhood, a couple of miles west of the so-hot-right-now, West Loop dining district—coming here for, say, chicken and waffles (get the chicken and waffles, they're a little different, but really good) is actually making a major difference in the community.

Dreamed up by Inspiration Corporation, a well-regarded local nonprofit, the restaurant—housed in a handsome, LEED Gold-certified building, just steps from the nearest 'L' train stop—does more than serve breakfast and coffee to hungry customers. It's just one program the organization operates, offering more than 2,500 struggling Chicagoans a hand out of homelessness and poverty, toward complete self-reliance.

At the core of their mission is getting their clients workforce-ready—a free, twelve-week culinary training program puts students into the restaurant for six hours each day to gain hands-on experience; at the end, they receive the necessary certifications that they'll need to enter the labor market, along with jobseeking assistance.

Inspiration Corporation got its start back in 1989 as a volunteer-run effort; a smaller restaurant became a fixture in the struggling Uptown neighborhood, long before that area began to enjoy the popularity it does now. Today, the organization focuses its efforts on the East Garfield Park location—not exactly the buckle of Chicago's brunch belt (not just yet, anyway) but also lucky enough to be located next door to one of the city's most spectacular destinations, the all-weather Garfield Park Conservatory and its vast indoor gardens. It's the perfect day out in a part of town that's often overlooked by most visitors—hopefully not for much longer.

Inspiration Kitchens serves lunch Wednesday-Friday from 11-5, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10-3. More information at www.inspirationkitchens.org.