At the intersection of Bloomingdale Avenue and Spaulding Avenue is the home of Envision Unlimited West Town, a nonprofit social service organization that provides programs for people with disabilities across a wide range of ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Their mission is to promote choice, independence, and community integration to their clients through a variety of high-quality programs and services.
Last month, they celebrated the grand opening of the newest addition to their Logan Square location: The Idelle Kipperman Shared Kitchen, a fully licensed, climate-controlled industrial kitchen for food entrepreneurs. The program’s goal is to pair Envision clients with local food businesses looking for help with food prep and other kitchen needs.
Named in honor of Larry Kipperman’s mom, The Idelle Kipperman Kitchen is the brainchild of Envision Unlimited CEO Mark McHugh and Logan Square Kitchen owner and consultant, Zina Murray. McHugh and Murray kicked off the project about two years ago in March of 2017 with a feasibility study, business plan, which eventually led to the designing and building of the kitchen.
“There had been this idea kicking around about food, program participants, and how do we put those pieces together so they work,” said Murray. “The first thing we did was a research project, and I made some recommendations on the business model. Mark really put his trust in me.”
Murray said she created a business plan, a budget and supervised the contracts and general contractors to make the idea a reality.
“We had a lot of trouble navigating the city, but it worked out,” she said. “Luckily, I had a CEO who was not faint of heart—because it’s never easy to go through that process.”
With the couple’s vision and the generous donation from Larry Kipperman, The Idelle Kipperman space was ultimately designed with the goal of not only providing a space for small businesses looking for an industrial kitchen, but also connecting those businesses with Envision Unlimited’s clients.
Photos: Tom Vlodek
Jason Whitner, who heads training and is the kitchen manager, leads clients at Envision Unlimited through a month-long training program prior to being paired with a small business. The training consists of a combination of online certifications in food handling and safety, as well as hands-on training for basic kitchen skills and etiquette.
“Most of the food tonight, including the cake, was made by the clients,” Whitner said. “They’re reading off the recipe, measuring out the ingredients, and I’m there to help guide the process.”
The Food Handler’s training and certification helps clients develop transferable work skills, and connect with local businesses, he added.
“It’s rewarding to me personally,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be fast, but I would like to see this program grow bigger and bigger.”
The kitchen is open 24 hours a day with a variety of local businesses working out of the space. Many of the businesses are new, and they’re able to lean on the experience of Whitner and his team, as well as their fellow tenants on help with city regulations, or making sure they’re prepared for their first food festival.
“It’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do,” Whitner said. “I was working in restaurants for years, and wanted to go somewhere where it’s making a difference. It was just perfect timing.”
Chicago-based Mad Moxie Hospitality is a customized catering company specializing in fresh bread, custom ground and pressed sausages, homemade sauces, cocktails, and more. They are one of the many local businesses that take advantage of the newly built kitchen space.
“Everyone is very nice and accommodating, we can come in whenever we need to.” said Nathaniel Herrera, head chef at Mad Moxie.
The owners heard about the space via a recommendation by Chicago food consultant Murray.
“We’re very happy to find the space, it’s one of the nicest kitchens we’ve been in,” said co-owner and baker Hanna Coleman. “The climate-controlled space is amazing, as I don’t think I’ve ever worked out of a kitchen that has proper air conditioning.”
In addition to providing food handling training and certifications, Envision Unlimited also provides a variety of other skill-based services for its clients such as art, photography, and sewing programs in addition to collaborations with local businesses.
One of these partnerships is the West Town Education for Textiles (W.E.F.T.) program in collaboration with The Weaving Mill, an artist-run industrial weaving studio in Chicago.
Photos: Tom Vlodek
Emily Winter, who runs the textile studio The Weaving Mill, had previously worked as a teaching artist in Envision’s art studio and expressed the positivity of Envision.
“It’s a great community, a great program, and it’s a vibrant place,” Winter said.
In addition to running The Weaving Mill, Emily also partners with Envision through W.E.F.T., a hand weaving textile education program in which clients learn to make tote bag, rugs, and other woven products. Program artists receive 60 percent of the sales with the remainder going back to the program budget.
Photos: Tom Vlodek
“Envision is a great organization to work with,” she said. “They’re open to new models of programming and ways to work with this population in creative ways.”
To learn more about Envision Unlimited and their other programs, visit their website.
Featured photo: Tom Vlodek