A heart for the Northside

Appetite For Change nonprofit uses food to fuel social change

Credit: Appetite For Change co-founder Michelle Horovitz at Breaking Bread Café, a restaurant the nonprofit started on West Broadway. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Michelle Horovitz notices a stark contrast when she commutes from home in Linden Hills to the nonprofit Appetite For Change she co-founded on West Broadway. The co-ops and scratch food restaurants on the Southside are exchanged for fast food chains on the Northside.

“I think about how unfair it is,” she said. “I think about the reasons why there is disinvestment. I don’t think it’s coincidental.”

Appetite For Change focuses on food to bring about social change. In the past year it’s received a visit from the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, raised $60,000 on Kickstarter and opened a restaurant. 

When staff members learned Domino’s might lease part of their Broadway Avenue building, they rushed to counter the move and opened Breaking Bread Café last spring. The nonprofit had a tiny budget and wasn’t exactly ready to launch a new business. But Horovitz said they felt compelled to act.

“If we don’t, we’re going to be the first people complaining,” she said.

The menu serves a mix of comfort food and healthy choices, everything from jerk shrimp and cheese grits to tofu veggie breakfast tacos.

The café is also home to Community Cooks workshops where new moms, families and youth gather to cook and eat and discuss community issues. (The next event is Dec. 16.)

Horovitz said she thinks the best investments in North Minneapolis aren’t necessarily the nonprofits — they’re individual people and their ideas, she said. Northside entrepreneurs often lack access to capital, access to investors and business connections.

“That’s why Kindred Kitchen is a great resource in the community, because it is a space you can incubate out of,” she said.

Kindred Kitchen is a food startup incubator originally developed in 2010 by The Ackerberg Group — a well-known developer in Uptown — on behalf of Ackerberg’s nonprofit development arm Catalyst Community Partners.

Appetite For Change now operates Kindred Kitchen, and it’s home to startups like Herbivorous Butcher, the vegan butcher constructing a new storefront in Northeast. Other vendors include Thumbs Cookies, on the shelves at Lake Wine & Spirits; and Haas Brothers Foods, which makes corn tortilla chips and salsa sold at the Linden Hills Co-op.

“There is a handful of vendors that make their product here and then they go and sell it in other parts of the community, which says a lot about the inequity,” Horovitz said.

She said a common misperception is that people of color either don’t want to buy good food, don’t recognize it or can’t afford it.   

“People do spend money on a lot of things, including food. But you spend money on food that’s in your community,” she said. “People here get really sick and tired of having to leave their community.”

Residents routinely leave to visit co-ops, Trader Joe’s and many restaurants, she said.

“After a while, especially if you don’t have a car, you’re kind of stuck with what’s in your neighborhood,” Horovitz said.

Jessie McDaniel, a youth leader and program facilitator at Appetite For Change, said even he recently fell victim to Wendy’s “4 for $4” (a burger, chicken nuggets, fries and a drink).

“It’s so convenient you can become addicted to it,” he said.

He remembers waking up at age 16 or 17 with heartburn — it’s not uncommon for kids in urban cities, he said.

“Once we started eating at the table, I felt more like I could talk to my mom about anything, we was all on the same page, started planning family nights, family outings,” said McDaniel, whose mother Princess Titus co-founded Appetite For Change. “Not only did it change how I felt about communicating with my mom, it just brought more to our family. … Now that I’m moved out on my own I kind of miss that.”

McDaniel said mealtime helped bring his family together after the death of his brother, Anthony Titus, who was shot and killed in North Minneapolis in July 2010.

“After my  brother died, it’s just crazy how I could have became a drug addict, I could have became anything, I could have just went crazy and never came back from that,” he said. “But my mom being strong and starting up Appetite For Change actually brought me and her closer together around food, the topic of food. Now she’s cooking different, she’s eating different — who the hell would have knew I like beets a lot? … Just eating healthier brought me a healthier mentality.”

When Horovitz met co-founder Princess Titus, Titus was growing food in community gardens and learning from Hmong growers — well before community gardening was a “thing,” Horovitz said. She first heard Latasha Powell, another Appetite For Change co-founder, speak at a Metro State lecture. Upon learning Powell was born and raised in North and grew her own food, Horovitz introduced herself.

As Appetite For Change was getting started, McDaniel remembers passing out apple pie in cups at one of the most notorious gas stations in North Minneapolis.

“At the time I think I was 18, not really sure about North Minneapolis and my safety,” he said. “We don’t really want to be on this corner handing out apple pie in a cup and the recipe and telling people about Appetite For Change. But that got people aware of what Appetite For Change is.”

The nonprofit is located a few blocks from the 4th Precinct. Horovitz has brought coffee out to the protesters, and staff members have worked to support the late Jamar Clark’s family.

“I was a public defender, so it’s hard for me to watch what’s going on,” Horovitz said. “If it was a civilian shooting another civilian, or if it was a civilian shooting a cop, that person would be — while they are investigating — locked up. No bail. It’s just a different standard.”

As a public defender in Florida, Horovitz handled misdemeanors; juvenile cases ranging from truancy to aggravated robbery; and felony drug, theft and firearm possession cases. After moving back to Minnesota and having her first child she started a nonprofit called Urban Baby, teaching cooking classes to preschoolers and their parents. She taught most of her classes for free anywhere that would host her, but she felt a tug toward North Minneapolis, where her grandparents lived for many years.

Appetite For Change is working to continue strengthening its partnerships in North Minneapolis. It’s using part of a recent $375,000 federal grant to boost Northside Fresh, a coalition of about 30 groups working to increase healthy eating in North Minneapolis. Appetite For Change also sponsors the Fruit and Veggie RX program, which subsidizes farmers market purchases tied to diet-related doctor prescriptions.

McDaniel works at community gardens across North Minneapolis, growing the food, maintaining the gardens and selling produce at the West Broadway Farmers Market.

“A lot of things can be prevented just with small things — food,” McDaniel said. “Who knows, just your son or your daughter preparing a meal, it could gain their sense of responsibility, give them more self-esteem. … So if you just start with cooking a meal together, preparing a meal together, talking around that meal, who knows where it will take you at the end of the day. … You’ve got to start with you.”

Lachelle Cunningham, executive chef at Appetite for Change