Near Minnehaha Falls, this grilled-cheese sandwich shop makes you feel good in many different ways.
Photos by Jason DeRusha
There’s not much to All Square, the physical restaurant: a friendly smile at the counter, a handful of tables, a few seats at the diner-style bar. At the same time, there’s so much more. Not far from Minnehaha Falls, these are tasty grilled-cheese sandwiches served with a healthy dose of social justice.
The new eatery is Emily Hunt Turner’s idea. Working in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on issues of prisoner re-entry and fair housing, she realized that, for prisoners to succeed in life, they had to be able to get a job. And, generally, people with criminal records have a really hard time getting a job.
Hence: All Square—a nonprofit social enterprise employing the people they call fellows. Everyone working at All Square was formerly incarcerated, not necessarily because of a felony. Many members of the operation’s leadership also have criminal records, or are “justice-impacted,” as Hunt Turner prefers to call them. “We believe this sort of venture should be shaped, informed, and led by those who have experienced the barriers,” she says.
You apply to be part of the All Square Institute, which involves a year-long training program. The first six months, you work 30 hours in the restaurant and attend classes for 15 hours at the Institute, based in a multi-function community space. In the second six months, you do the reverse, with 15 hours in the restaurant. It’s a career pathway, it’s financial support. It provides professional skills and reintroduces people who want to turn their lives around to society. How could you not love it? The fellows have served their time, paid their debts, and are “all square.”
The Jerk Chicken Grilled Cheese
But how’s the grilled cheese? It’s capital-g Grilled, capital-c Cheese! It’s great! Chef Sarah Master (formerly of Red Stag, once a contestant on The Taste, and currently cooking in New Orleans) helped Hunt Turner develop the menu, and these are truly amped-up, bargain sandwiches. We loved the version with juicy, rotisserie chicken in a vibrant Jamaican jerk sauce, with Swiss and provolone cheeses and a bright guava jam. Pretending to eat healthy? How about a basil pesto grilled cheese? Shredded mozzarella, fresh basil, and fontina cheese served with a hot and sweet pepper jelly dip ($7).
Each sandwich comes with greens, and you can add a large serving of fries for just $2. A simple kids’ grilled cheese is $5, or spend a buck more to get the four-cheese, with sharp cheddar, cracked pepper jack, Asiago, and Parmesan. They’ve got tomato soup for $3 and a small selection of tap beer and wine for just $6, and that’s it.
The Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese
We had great, friendly service and found a really welcoming vibe in the room. People moved around to make sure my wife, our two kids, and I could sit at a slightly larger table. It just felt good. Hard not to think that part of this is because it’s a restaurant that’s doing good.
We need to do a better job making sure no one is scarred for life because of a criminal record. We need to get people employed again and making better lives for themselves and their families. And if we can do that with a delicious grilled cheese—I’m in.
4047 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis