CHICAGO — Looking for a fresh start, four formerly incarcerated women sought out their passion and started a business that would intersect passion and community.
‘ChiFresh Kitchen’ did not start as the operation that prepares 300 meals before 10 a.m. on a regular basis.
“We started off at 50 meals a week to over 2,000 a week,” co-owner Sarah Stadtfeld said.
The four women have worked alongside each other every weekday morning since May, cooking, baking and packaging hundreds of meals for delivery across Chicago.
Stadtfeld said finding a job after leaving prison was difficult, and left her wondering about her options.
“I came out scared and it was tough trying to find a job. Putting down that you’re a felon is hard…you gotta check that box and it’s hard,” Stadtfeld said.
A recent study shows 44 percent of formerly incarcerated Black women are unemployed, compared to 18 percent of formerly incarcerated white men.
Business consultant Camille Kerr looked to steer Stadtfeld toward starting her own business.
“They were like yeah, I always dreamed of starting a business but I didn’t know where to start, so those barriers are real,” Kerr said.
Kerr brought the women together to create a business plan to allow them to work and share the profits equally.
‘ChiFresh Kitchen’ works with community partners, such as the Urban Growers Collective and the Chicago Food Policy Action Council in helping address the emergency food needs that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their business has quadrupled since the spring, quickly outgrowing their 600 square foot kitchen at The Hatchery.
This fall, ChiFresh Kitchen plans to move into a 6,000 square foot facility at 71st Street and King Drive.
“We’re really excited to create a new community asset that’s around healthy, affordable, nutritious and delicious food,” Kerr said.
For the women involved, ChiFresh Kitchen represents a great passion and a second chance.
“People like us that were formerly incarcerated that see this on the news feel like they have a chance. There are some good people out there that will help you,” Stadtfeld said.