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Evanston resident opens comfort food restaurant with help of student group

Victoria Cabales, Reporter

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Evanston native Jennifer Eason’s passion for cooking started early.

Eason began cooking at age 7 to help her pregnant mother when she was unable to cook for the family of eight. Eason has worked in the food industry for over a decade and overcame significant financial obstacles to open her own restaurant, Jennifer’s Edibles, 1623 Simpson St., on Friday.

The restaurant focuses on providing delicious, healthy meals to working families, Eason said. Its menu spans a range of cuisines, from comfort food to Asian-inspired dishes.

After working for 11 years as a personal chef and caterer, Eason said she understands how difficult it can be for working parents to cook for their families. This problem became the driving force behind the opening of Jennifer’s Edibles.

“The business has just really taken off, and I’m really proud of it,” Eason said. “It’s really been an adventure.”

Eason opened the restaurant with financial help from LEND, a Northwestern student-run small loans organization.

LEND offers loans of up to $10,000 to Evanston entrepreneurs like Eason who need the money to either start or continue their own business.

LEND co-president Lucas Bertolet, a Weinberg senior, said Eason was an ideal client. He and Eason first met in spring of last year when Sunshine Enterprises — a Chicago-based organization that offers business training classes — recommended her from its business development class for minority entrepreneurs.

“(Eason) has such a great attitude about taking on the risk,” Bertolet said. “You can tell … that she is really passionate about cooking.”

After reviewing her business plan, LEND loaned Eason $2,550 gathered from donations to help with startup costs for the restaurant.

Eason said she credits her success as a businesswoman to The Community Business Academy offered by Sunshine Enterprises, from which she graduated last summer. She took a variety of courses ranging from personal finance to marketing strategy.

Eason’s instructor at Sunshine Enterprises Robin Rue Simmons, who is running for Fifth Ward alderman, said Eason’s hard work made the restaurant happen. Eason worked as her personal chef 12 years ago, and Simmons said she has enjoyed watching her gain the skills necessary to make her dreams a reality.

“She was very diligent in completing the class (at Sunshine Academy) and has followed up with all opportunities,” Simmons said.

Simmons has said that the appeal of the restaurant is the welcoming, family style dining, which she describes as “classic American, contemporary soul food.” Menu items at Jennifer’s Edibles range from traditional southern meals, such as fried catfish, to dishes such as teriyaki glazed cod.

“The appeal is the family style dining,” Simmons said. “The comfort foods, the quality ingredients, and the inviting atmosphere at the restaurant, and her smile. She’s made the restaurant very comfortable, and it’s such a great restaurant.”

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