Today we are joined by Ann-Louise Haak, Executive Director of First Slice Pie Cafe. First Slice is all about good food for good people and as a nonprofit organization provides high quality meals to people living on the margins of society. Proceeds from purchases at each of their three locations on the northside of Chicago and one in Evanston, go toward providing healthful, farm-to-table meals to Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. You can find First Slice here in Andersonville at 5357 N Ashland.
“Haters gonna hate, burglars gonna steal, and dang it,
First Slice is gonna keep making pie and feeding folks who need to be fed”
- Ann-Louise grew up on the East coast. She grew up with the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania until she was ten, then her mom remarried and relocated to the suburbs of Washington DC. She originally came to the Midwest for college, and hasn’t left since – her twentieth anniversary of Midwest living is coming up this fall!
- Unbeknownst to many, Ann-Louise is actually an ordained member of the clergy as well as a Baptist minister. Though she can officiate weddings, she chose not to for a long time because she was unable to give the same blessings to all couples. She lead ceremonies without signing licenses for a while, but her mindset shifted when she was married to her partner a few summers ago. Though she is more willing to encourage the married lifestyle now, does make her couples do premarital counseling before their big day.
- First Slice was started by Mary-Ellen Diaz, a classically trained French chef and mother of two. When she was on maternity leave for her second child, she realized how difficult it was for her, a professional chef, to get dinner on the table most nights. She came up with the idea of a meal subscription to help ease the dining difficulties of others. It launched in 2004 and is still available.
- How it works:
- You sign up for the subscription.
- A new menu is released every Friday.
- Subscribers pick three entrees, each menu has a set list of sides – and a pie of course – to accompany the meals.
- First Slice cooks, packages, and freezes the meals; you stop by your local cafe (5357 N Ashland if you’re in Andersonville) to pick up the food at your leisure.
- You are free to mix and match sides all week long; all you need to do is warm it up and dig in!
- Currently, there are an estimated 75 households participating in the subscription program.
- Another facet in First Slice’s mission came from Mary-Ellen’s experience volunteering at local soup kitchens. It was through this work that she realized two things: first, the meals they were serving at the kitchens, though helpful, were filled with starches, fats, and, while filling, had very little nutritional value. Second, her cooking skills were appreciated far more in the soup kitchens than at her place of work – people that don’t have access to good food regularly appreciate it far more than those that do not have to worry.
- When people hear “first slice,” they usually assume that the cafe’s award-winning pies are the inspiration for the name – this is not the case. First Slice is a name inspired by their mission: “…Our commitment [is] to give the first slice – the best cut – to folks who are hungry and in need rather than just giving them what’s leftover at the end of the day.”
- First Slice feeds about 700 people per week through partnerships with local nonprofits and patrons that come into the cafe. Food insecurity is a very immediate need; First Slice is working to lessen that need with good, quality food.
- One of the many perks of signing up for First Slice’s meal subscription service is that some of that money goes towards providing meals to the hungry. First Slice saves money when they cook in bulk. So, if they were to prep chicken parm for 100 subscribers for a particular week, it would be just as easy and just as expensive to make 150 portions. The extra meals 50 meals they are able to make for the same price go to the hungry.
- First Slice works with several local nonprofits for their outreach work:
- StreetWise: Likely First Slice’s biggest outreach partner, they provide a free, hot meal to all vendors during the week. Whenever they go to the office to participate in the program, meet with a social worker, or update their resume they know they’ll have something to eat.
- The Crib: A nighttime drop for street-based youth. First Slice provides warm dinners to kids staying there.
- Broadway Youth Center: A daytime drop in for street-based youth. First Slice brings lunches there.
- Common pantry: On Wednesday nights, Common Pantry opens their doors to people in the midst of food emergencies. The neighboring church, Epiphany United Church of Christ, also opens up its doors and serves First Slice food so people can bring their families to do their shopping and eat dinner together.
- Lakeview Presbyterian Church: First Slice works with Lakeview Presbyterian to provide lunches to low income or economically unstable senior citizens during the week.
- Outside of the meal subscription service and their outreach, First Slice also serves incredible pies (obviously). The favorite is Traditional Apple – Food and Wine Magazine called it one of America’s best apple pies – but Michigan Sour Cherry is also a popular choice.
- Another outreach event First Slice participates in is Empty Bowls. This national fundraiser is happening on Friday March 8 from 5-8PM; it is a way to help battle hunger in the United States. Ceramic artists throw handmade bowls and donate them, First Slice makes a lot of soup, when guests arrive they get to choose their own bowl, and they eat soup to their heart’s content. When guests are ready to leave a volunteer helps wash out their chosen bowl and they get to keep it forever as a reminder of all the empty bowls they helped fill that night. Tickets are $25, more details are available here.
- Because Ann-Louise in the First Slice team are so involved in the community, they are always looking for extra hands to help out. If you’re interested, the volunteer form is on their website – they need people to serve at their multiple outreach outlets, help at Empty Bowls, work their stand at the Andersonville Farmers Market, and even help in critical administrative activities like marketing and IT.
- Despite two recent burglaries of their Andersonville location, First Slice is still working hard and going strong. Though Ann-Louise wouldn’t recommend it as a team-building exercise, the staff pulled together to see the silver lining and the community rallied around them to support the team and their work.
- If Ann-Louise could swap with any Andersonville business for a day she would choose Women and Children First (5233 N Clark). She has loved the store since she moved to the city and working there was actually her first job after she graduated from college.
Thank you for joining us today and thank you for listening to Always Andersonville: the podcast. For more information about First Slice, please visit firstslice.org. Show notes on today’s episode can be found at andersonville.org.