People with a criminal record deserve a fair shake, believes Emily Turner, who was born and raised in Wahpeton.
Turner, a former attorney with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Minneapolis, is devoting her energy to launching a nonprofit gourmet grilled cheese restaurant, All Square in the Twin Cities area. When opened, All Square will hire individuals with criminal records. The name comes from the belief that after paying one’s debt to society, he or she is “All Square,” a belief Turner has seen challenged.
“I have been working in the public sector for five years and have been both shocked and disheartened to learn that a criminal record — even after one has paid their debts to society — often prevents individuals from accessing the fundamental pillars of life,” Turner said. “People’s merits are so frequently flooded out by their mistakes.”
Thursday marked the launch of Turner’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 for All Square. She hopes to open the first location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood sometime in 2017. Starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, Wahpeton’s Red Door Art Gallery will host an open to the public fundraising party for All Square.
“When I grew up and went to high school in Wahpeton, the Red Door didn’t exist. I’d always heard of it as this great museum and art space. I think it’s so healthy for a community like Wahpeton to have this,” Turner said.
No matter how far she’s traveled, Wahpeton has “been home forever and always will be” for Turner. Along the way, she’s understood the importance of home, especially for the newly-released.
Prior to Minneapolis, Turner was based in New Orleans, where she “saw countless policies, maybe not ill-intended,” that hindered people with criminal records from having a successful transition to everyday life and were in essence twice punishing them.
“If you have a criminal record, what are you going to do? There’s not really a lot of interim options during that pocket of time. What people really need is support and they’re finding it almost impossible to obtain employment and housing,” Turner said.
By the spring and summer of 2016, Turner had come to a realization. She didn’t feel as if her talent was being maximized within the federal government. And then she thought back to some lighthearted evenings with friends.
“The only thing I can cook well is grilled cheese and so it was sort of pitched as a playful hypothetical,” she remembered. “‘You should open a grilled cheese shop someday.’ I did research and found they are trendy right now in a number of different cities. I thought I could make a cool space out of this (shop), but I sort of tabled it, thinking ’Someday, maybe.’”
Turner is looking at All Square as a project in phases. Ideally, she’ll hire 10-25 employees for the grilled cheese shop and subsequently grow not only a housing component but a community.
“People need more than employment,” she said. “Once we get the bricks and mortar restaurant finished and make sure we’ve become this operating entity, we’ll add more phases and apply for grants. The first step is the restaurant.”
Jolene Miller is past president of the board and interim gallery manager at the Red Door Art Gallery. She called All Square “a marvelous effort” on Turner’s part.
“We certainly want to support other nonprofits,” she said. “We want to be a good partner with all sorts of organizations in town, both civic and other nonprofits. We want to make this beautiful building available for functions such as this (party), so we welcome the opportunity to work with her.”
Turner is proud to announce she’s also teaming with Minnesota chef Sarah Master, who reached the semifinals of ABC’s “The Taste” cooking competition.
“We haven’t determined a final menu yet, but we plan to have our grilled cheese in 7-8 categories. We’ll have your traditional grilled cheese, your meaty, your exotic … We hope to keep a pretty tight menu, but we’ll also serve soups and salads, root beer floats, that sort of thing,” Turner said.
Turner is grateful for the support of chefs and restaurateurs in Minneapolis who are guiding her through a new experience. Although samples of All Square’s menu will not be available at the Red Door party, larger donations to the Kickstarter earn invites to an eventual tasting party in Minneapolis.
“The wheels are in motion,” Turner said. “It’s been a really fun adventure and it’s just beginning.”
The Red Door Art Gallery is located at 418 Dakota Ave. in Wahpeton.
For more information, please visit www.allsquarempls.com.