'It was a work of love': Naperville restaurant employing workers with disabilities closes its doors

Mark Rivera Image
Friday, August 25, 2023
Suburban restaurant employing workers with disabilities closes doors
Naperville, Illinois restaurant Chez Francois Poutinerie closed its doors, but Friends of Francois is still working to help people with disabilities.

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (WLS) -- It was a powerful and heartfelt sendoff for a restaurant with a purpose.

The driving force is to give people with developmental disabilities a place to learn and grow. Dozens said goodbye to Chez Francois Poutinerie in Naperville on Friday, but while the doors are closing, the women behind the restaurant and partner nonprofit said their mission is moving forward.

It's been one year since Chez Francois Poutinerie opened its doors to adults with developmental disabilities to gather, learn, make food and work in a professional environment.

On Friday, it is closing its doors for good.

"To be honest with you, it's kind of sad," said Clayton McGill.

Andrew MacLennen gave owner Thi Tram Nguyen a card to "say thank you for what she does for everybody."

McGill was a trainee at Chez Francois before it had to close.

"When it comes to special needs employment, this is the place," McGill said.

Nguyen, who said she emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam near the end of the war, named the restaurant after her son, Francois, who has autism. She started it to provide a safe space and train adults with developmental disabilities.

"The community, friends, family, they all came to say goodbye and they all came to say how much we brought to the community and, it's been wonderful," Nguyen said.

After a year of on-the-job training, opening the restaurant to the public and advocacy organizations for food and fellowship, she said they were forced to close.

"We didn't have the money enough to pay for the rent," Nguyen said.

But, Nguyen and Friends of Francois President Lauren Longo said their mission is far from over with a new resource website.

"There, you can go on, and we are posting different organizations that have reached out to us, job fairs work force," Longo said.

They're looking to partner with other organizations for hiring and training.

"It was a work of love. So, when you work of love, you try to do everything so they succeed," Nguyen said.

So, while this may be a door closing, another is opening. The new owner is keeping the employees with disabilities who already worked at the restaurant.

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