With her son in mind, Thi Nguyen decided to open up a business that will provide him with an opportunity he may be missing in the future. And now, that’s about to happen.
New Downtown Restaurant
Chez François Poutinerie will be a new addition to Downtown Naperville. The restaurant’s aim is to provide employment opportunities for those with developmental disabilities. “It’s not a five-star steak house restaurant. It’s basic fast food and an open kitchen,” said Nguyen. “A lot of repetition, and that’s what they’re good at.”
Poutine is a comfort meal that consists of fries, cheese curds, and gravy sauce. Nguyen’s 16-year-old son, François, is autistic. She said she’s been “amazed” by the special education programs in Naperville school districts. But once the kids turn 22, she says there aren’t services for them anymore.
“They receive benefits from the government but if they work, they cannot work more than a certain amount because they’re going to lose the benefits. So most of them they’re staying home and they do nothing,” said Nguyen. “And it’s very hard for them to find a job too because a lot of companies are not equipped for the training of the special needs program.”
Knowing this, Nguyen took matters into her own hands and decided she wanted to open up a business to provide those employment opportunities. She’s been able to do that with the help of the community. Her painter, lawyer, and accountant are supporting her initiative without pay. “I’m doing [this] for the community and by the community responding to that, it fills my heart that ok, I’m [going] in the right direction,” said Nguyen.
Menu and Operations
Half of the restaurant’s employees will be those with developmental disabilities. They’ll go through a three-month training program. Once they’re ready, they’ll get to work mostly day shifts for around three hours. The business is also implementing a peer buddy system, an idea Nguyen took from her son’s school district.
The menu will include eight variations of poutine including the traditional one, hangover poutine, and truffle fries poutine. Four Asian-flavored salads will also be options to choose from. The 2,500 square foot space at 22 E Chicago Avenue, Suite 120 will offer dine in, pick up, and delivery.
“I wanted a location that people are going to see them. Downtown Naperville [has] a lot of footstep, a lot of visibility,” said Nguyen. “If my business is successful, then it’s going to open doors to every business after that.”
Nguyen’s hope is that this first step will lead each Naperville business to hire at least one employee with developmental disabilities. Her overall goal is to franchise so there’s a restaurant with this concept running in every state. “I’m excited that I’m bringing poutine to Naperville,” said Nguyen. “And I’m excited that I’m going to bring a business to Downtown Naperville that when people are going to come to my business, they will witness that [those with] special needs are part of the community. They can be part of the economy of our community.”
The anticipated opening date of Chez François Poutinerie is May or June 2022.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Thi Nguyen