Reasons to Love Minnesota No. 20: All Square

Grilled cheese sandwiches with a side of social good

All Square in South Minneapolis is one part restaurant, one part training academy. Founded in September 2018, exactly two years from the launch of its Kickstarter campaign, its main objective is to provide a living wage and professional development opportunities to formerly incarcerated men and women. The social enterprise is the brainchild of Emily Hunt Turner, a civil rights attorney with a background in housing, architecture, and public policy; and its M.O. is guided by a diverse board of directors, including two former inmates.

The folks accepted into the yearlong fellowship program are resilient, hard-working individuals who have struggled to land steady jobs because of past criminal records. All Square pays its fellows $14 an hour to start. “With tips from the community, they are averaging between $19-$21 an hour, depending on the season,” says Turner, noting that Minnesota’s minimum wage is $9.86 and the federal minimum wage is $7.25. “Thus, our fellows are earning nearly three times the federal minimum wage, including tips. With an annual salary of $30,000, they are earning more than double the national average of those who are justice-impacted.”

All Square also provides assistance with transportation, business attire, mobile phones, and more. Fellows work in the restaurant 30 to 35 hours a week, learning everything from sandwich making to social media. Turner encourages her crew to think creatively, noting that three of their 12 grilled cheese sandwiches were designed by fellows (and two of ’em are bestsellers). Fellows devote an additional 10 to 15 unpaid hours to professional and personal development, which includes structured coursework covering leadership training in law and entrepreneurship, practical stuff like résumé writing and personal finance, and wellness (one-on-one therapy sessions and weekly “restorative circles”).

Big-picture topics like civil rights and criminal justice reform are also broached. “Graduates leave [the fellowship program] with real-world experience, social capital, leadership skills, and in some cases, seed money,” says Turner. “They also leave having had speaking engagements to educate, inspire, and motivate the public to get engaged with building a more inclusive community.”

By fall 2019, Turner saw 11 of her 14 fellows graduate. Among the success stories: Chris Dolan, who was accepted into law school with an 80 percent scholarship; Nate Howard, who was accepted into paralegal school and recently promoted to General Manager at All Square; and Onika Goodluck, who planned, designed, and executed Daddy’s Kitchen, LLC, a fully operation catering business offering Caribbean-American soul food.

This is a phenomenal program that we’d love to see replicated across the country. But also: All Square’s sandwiches are really tasty! The rotisserie jerk chicken with Swiss, provolone, and guava jam is a best seller, but our favorite is the Punch ‘n Crunch: melty cheddar topped with pickled jalapeños, chili cheese corn chips, and a squirt of Sriracha-spiked ranch. Yes, please!

All Square
4047 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis, MN; 612-787-7164.