The flowers by the door of Dream Chef Kitchen aren’t real. But on a dreary day in March, they offered a hopeful note of what might eventually grow.
Growth is important to the catering company and restaurant’s owner and chef, Nichelle Benford. She’s done a lot of growing lately. Growing into the kind of woman who wouldn’t stake her future on anyone but herself; the kind of businesswoman who believes she can create space to serve as encouragement to other entrepreneurs eyeing a corner neighbored by empty lots. And growing into the kind of person who believed her story did not end on the 2010 day when she was sentenced to prison.
Opened in January and expanded to dinner hours this spring, Dream Chef Kitchen (611 S. California Ave.) is a bright space on the corner of California and Harrison, just off I-290. Benford, 37, wants it to be a place where people come for a healthy meal, a seat by a window, maybe even a setting for nurturing bigger plans.
CHICAGO — Before opening Dream Chef Kitchen and Catering in East Garfield Park, owner Nichelle Benford worked the catwalk, corporate America and the kitchen. But an unexpected detour almost ended her dream before it could begin.
Nichelle was a high fashion model in Europe, working for designer Donna Karan in Milan. But she says she quickly learned she wasn’t cut out for the highs and lows of the industry, and came back home to Chicago. After working for a telecom company, she found that wasn’t a good fit either.
“So, I quit and I went to culinary school and everybody thought I was crazy,” Nichelle said.
She learned to cook as a child, sitting on the kitchen counter and handing spices to the grandmothers who raised her. Cooking put her back in her comfort zone. But just as she was finishing up culinary school at 29 years old, Nichelle was indicted.
Nichelle Benford, a pioneer of the food truck business, recently opened her first restaurant named “Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant & Catering,” after experiencing entrepreneurial setbacks and serving prison time.
Benford will operate her previously established catering business and mentoring program for employment-challenged young women at her new restaurant, located on 611 S. California Ave. Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant & Catering will serve local companies, organizations and diners “on-the-go” and those who want a sit-down meal.
“I’ve always dreamt about this day, but I never imagined it would come,” she said. “I know the food business and it’s something I love to do and look forward to doing every day, but what the experience of opening this new restaurant taught me was the importance of having a good support network.”
COME TRUE: Entrepreneur Nichelle Benford. second from left, is all smiles at a Jan. 27, grand opening for her restaurant Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant at 611 S. California Ave. | WENDELL HUTSON/Contributor
A recent grand opening for a new restaurant on the West Side is a dream come true for its founder who served time in a federal prison.
Family, friends and supporters joined Nichelle Benford, 36, on Jan. 27, as she opened Dream Chef Kitchen & Restaurant, 611 S. California Ave., in the Garfield Park neighborhood. Since she was five years old, Benford, who previously was a model, said she has always cooked.
“Cooking just came natural for me,” said Benford, who graduated in 2008 from Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute at Kennedy-King College. “It has always been something I enjoyed doing.”
Leslie Munger, deputy governor of Illinois, Kevin Davenport, associate loan officer for the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, Jason Johnson, director of entrepreneurship for the Chicago Urban League, Evelyn Diaz, president of Heartland Alliance and Dan Sprehe, Chicago Neighborhoods panel on Jan. 17 at Ferguson Hall, 600 S. Michigan Ave.
While Chicago is still in the running for Amazon’s second headquarters, economic development advocates and politicians agree that more investments are needed in local neighborhoods for the city to thrive.
At a Jan. 17 panel titled Inspiring Investment in Chicago Neighborhoods, hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, experts in economic development discussed ways to spur economic growth in Chicago neighborhoods. The forum, held at 600 S. Michigan Ave., was moderated by Kristin Barrett, a senior director for the University of Chicago Polsky Exchange, a startup hub.
In metropolitan regions across the U.S., you’ll see remarkably similar patterns of inequity, in which a “favored quarter” attracts wealth like a magnet. Economically thriving neighborhoods—where you find coffee shops, start-up businesses, and top-ranked schools—begin downtown and fan out in one direction toward the ritziest suburbs. Think north in Atlanta and Dallas. West in Houston and St. Louis. Southwest in Minneapolis. East in Cincinnati. Northeast in Phoenix.
Chicago offers perhaps the most dramatic example. “Of 53 construction cranes currently at work in the city, only one is south of 22nd Street,” David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) and former CEO of the Chicago Park District, noted last summer.
CHICAGO (Nov. 6, 2017) — Gov. Bruce Rauner is announcing a new, innovative program to help formerly incarcerated men and women start their own businesses.
The Pathway to Enterprise for Returning Citizens (PERC) program is the first of its kind in Illinois. In its pilot phase, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) will screen candidates and select 125 people who are returning to communities on the south and west sides of Chicago. When they go home, they will receive in-depth training and coaching on how to run a business. This program will give them the opportunity to spur economic development and create jobs in the same communities in which they live. Continue reading PERC Press Release
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