Naperville’s Chez Francois Poutinerie closing its doors on August 25

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“It was the hardest decision that we had to make. We tried. We tried to keep it alive for many, many months. I think the biggest problem is the rent. The rent in downtown Naperville is really expensive. And when you are a family-owned business and you don’t have a liquor permit, it’s very hard to try to get enough revenue to pay the rent,” said Thi Nguyen, the owner of Chez Francois Poutinerie.

After a year of business, Chez Francois Poutinerie will be closing its doors on August 25. The French-Canadian style restaurant opened on Chicago Avenue in July 2022, becoming Naperville’s first poutinerie.

Unique employment opportunities

Also setting it apart was its staff. The restaurant gave people with special needs employment opportunities, and the management had nothing but good things to say about their employees.

“They are the most loyal and they are the most hardworking. They never miss a day. They never sick, always willing to work overtime. For me, it was the biggest accomplishment cause without them, I don’t think I would have survived until now,” said Nguyen.

The Chez Francois Poutinerie brand will now be absorbed into Nguyen’s nonprofit organization Friends of Francois. Its mission will continue to be supporting people with special needs, and giving them a spot to shine, as they did at the poutinerie.

“It’s just finding their passion and seeing where they could go with it. And they were just also happy. And once you found their passion and their drive, it was their happy place,” said Lauren Longo, President of Friends of Francois Foundation.

What’s next?

Nguyen said a Greek restaurant called Mary Maria’s Gyros will be opening in the location at 22 East Chicago Ave. around November, and plan to keep some of her employees.

“The new owner promised me that he’s going to keep them because they’ve been trained in the kitchen. So, he’s going to keep six of them. We still have 20 interns in front of the service and including my son that needs a job coach,” said Nguyen.

So far, two of those interns have been hired by a local dentist’s office. Nguyen says she’s trying to find opportunities for the other 18.

A message for the community

When she first opened the doors of Chez Francois Poutinerie, Nguyen had two goals in mind, to spread her love for poutine and give those with special needs a chance. But she says she couldn’t have done it without the help of others.

“I just want to say thank you to the community because without you, I don’t think we could even survive a month. We appreciate everybody that came in taste the poutine, because some of them, you know, they came for the mission and then they fell in love with the poutine. Some of them came and socialized with our kids. So, it’s been a wonderful experience for the community, for us and for them. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you to the community,” said Nguyen.

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