Feed Love: Power social change with your appetite at these 7 Chicago restaurants

By Nicole Bruce

Soul-nourishing food isn't hard to come by in a city abounding with dining options, but eateries that are also fueling life-changing initiatives to better serve their local communities are still rare, shining beacons of hope. The chefs at these Chicago restaurants and cafés are making more than just delicious food—they're dishing up a side of social action with every meal.

Ruxbin and Mott St
Edward Kim, chef and co-owner of acclaimed Chicago restaurants Mott St and Ruxbin, along with his business partners—wife, Jenny Kim, sister, Vicki Kim, and friend Nate Chung—collaborates with local mentoring program GRIP Outreach for Youth. The partnership has involved one-on-one restaurant mentoring plus employment for Wells Community Academy High School students who want to try out the culinary life—the students have even grown microgreens in classroom windows for the restaurants to purchase. Suddenly, the lamb belly ribs at Mott St and inventive, seasonal prix fixe fare at sister restaurant Ruxbin are more than just feel-good comforts for the belly.

Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed
Not many barbecue joints double as gathering spots for a thought-provoking speaker series focused on life, politics, and the state of the world. Under cRc supervision, this kosher barbecue restaurant's commitment extends beyond the meats smoked on-site—100 percent of all profits are also donated to different community causes each month, like a local elementary school, a food pantry, and a homeless shelter for women. That pulled barbecue chicken sandwich in Lakeview definitely comes with a heaping side of do-good.

Blue Sky Bakery & Cafe
This nonprofit bakery helps homeless and at-risk youth become self-sufficient by employing and training them in the hospitality workforce. The social venture provides twelve weeks of paid, supportive employment, where they can not only gain valuable experience in cooking, baking, work sanitation, customer service, and deliveries, but also meet with a social worker weekly for assistance with long-term professional endeavors like resume updating, interview skills, time management, and conflict resolution. Sink your teeth into that while gorging on the bakery's chocolate chunk cookies and Cheddar-chive scones.

First Slice Pie Cafe
Chef Mary Ellen Diaz opened up this self-funded charitable café to feed the needy and homeless in Chicago. For diners, helping to provide hunger relief is as easy as visiting one of three locations in Chicago's North Side and enjoying a fresh harvest salad, a plate of butternut squash and spinach lasagna, or a slice of their bestselling chocolate–peanut butter pie. Community volunteers and First Slice staff often serve home-cooked meals to more than 300 people in need each week, through several social service organizations like StreetWise. The café also has a small job training program.

Litehouse Whole Food Grill and Mikkey's Retro Grill
Erik Nance, owner of Hyde Park's Litehouse Whole Food Grill and Mikkey's Retro Grill, promises healthy, cheap eats, but also so much more. Both the Litehouse restaurant and Mikkey's diner are on a mission to give back to the neighborhood—with fresh meals as well as mentorships and employment for South Siders, many of whom are at-risk youth or were formerly homeless or struggled with addiction issues. Litehouse provides about 20 to 30 free meals a day to the less fortunate, who order from the regular menu and dine in the restaurant. Paying customers can support the mission by "going premium" and adding $2.50 to their burrito, wrap, or pizza bill, which goes toward helping to pay for others' free meals.

Hannah's Bretzel
The food service industry is notoriously waste-intensive, which is why this sandwich chain is out to prove it's possible for restaurants to go entirely zero-waste, and in doing so at least inspire others to reduce their waste. From organic ingredients, to biodegradable packaging, to composting, to low emission transportation, to wind and solar provided energy, their focus is to use smarter resources, and less of them. In addition to reducing its carbon footprint, leftover bread is donated to Zero-Percent. Head to one of four environmentally conscious locations in the city to taste a delicious, zero-waste club sandwich.

Kuma's Corner
The tough exterior (erm, interior) full of bloodthirsty bear paintings and Slayer-grade metal on repeat can make it seem like this famous burger joint is all about—and only about—devouring beef and headbanging, but its roots in the community run deep. With a homegrown mentality, the two bistro locations support all things local—whether it's the meat, the rotating craft brews and small label libations, the heavy metal, or the deserving charity of the month. So don't worry, proceeds from that massive Neurosis burger smothered with sharp Cheddar, Swiss, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and horseradish mayo are headed somewhere good, while the juicy patty hits your stomach.

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