Naperville restaurant is changing the lives of people with special needs

The secret ingredient to a new Naperville restaurant is the staff, as more than half of its employees have special needs.

“If I can make them visible here, then other businesses will see and maybe take our business model as an example,” said owner Thi Nguyen.

Nguyen and her husband used their savings to open Chez François Poutinerie in downtown Naperville. They wanted to make sure that their son, François, could find a job if something happened to them.

“[Only] 24% of this population has a job. They’re underemployed or they’re not even in the job market, so for me, I was thinking about my son, no one is going to hire him,” Nguyen said.


Looking back on her past, fleeing the Vietnam War at the age of eight and moving to France and then to Quebec, she did not want her son to face similar hardships.

Paige Krause is one of about 60 employees with special needs who will work at the restaurant.

“You don’t really get a lot of opportunities when you have special needs. It took me a long time to even get my first job,” she said.

Nguyen said interest in the restaurant stretches far and wide, with employees coming from Plainfield, Oswego, Berwyn, Libertyville and Gurnee.

Employees with special needs will be matched with a buddy who will assist them in their daily tasks. Each employee will receive the same amount, depending on their work, starting at $15 per hour.

The restaurant’s concept of crispy fries topped with authentic cheese curds and savory gravy is tied to Nguyen’s Canadian roots.

“I said to my husband, why don’t we open a poutine restaurant, it’s an easy concept, there’s a lot of rehearsal and special needs, they’re good with it,” he said. she stated.

When the restaurant opens in July, it will offer nine varieties of poutine as well as four salads, some with a Vietnamese twist.

“Now it’s time for me to give back to the community,” Nguyen said. “My love for family, my love for community and my love for French-Canadian food that I want to share with everyone in Naperville! »

See the menu and opening hours HERE.

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