Syracuse Restaurant Opens Doors of Innovation & Opportunity

When you walk into With Love Restaurant, your senses are immediately immersed in the unique aroma of foods unlike any other experienced in Syracuse. The vibrant, modern interior features large world maps once displayed in school classrooms. The clientele filling the tables reflect the rich diversity of Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood. But what you might not realize when you step into this cultural marvel is that this venture is also a prospering business incubator and teaching restaurant designed to help new Americans fulfill their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Sarah Robin

Sarah Robin

With Love selects a head chef and manager for half a year. The restaurant’s theme for each six-month period is based upon the cuisine of the restaurateur, offering dishes that may not have been previously available in Central New York, as With Love aims to work with those from immigrant, refugee, or indigenous backgrounds.

With Love, Pakistan was the first iteration of the restaurant and incubator. Sarah Robin came to Syracuse over four years ago as a refugee from Pakistan and just finished in June as the inaugural restaurateur-in-residence. Robin has plans to open her own restaurant in Syracuse, “I feel like this is a really great blessing for me,” she said.

Between 2000 and 2014, the foreign born population in the Syracuse metro area grew by over 42 percent. In 2014, foreign born residents, consisting of both immigrants and refugees, contributed $1.7 billion to the GDP of the Central New York area, according to New American Economy.

Vicki Brackens

Vicki Brackens

An effort of Onondaga Community College’s Workforce Development Program, With Love trains native and non-native residents alike in the skills needed to be successful in the restaurant industry. Turning out skilled laborers like line cooks addresses a labor shortage in the area, as food preparation and service-related jobs are the most in-demand in Central New York, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

Adam Sudmann, who now oversees current operations, was responsible for designing the interior space, the With Love Concept, and imparts the curriculum. He names seeing the progression of the students as the most rewarding part. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot about delivering services to people who really need it.”

A Community Foundation grant assisted the program with support for the costs of the restaurateur’s stipend.  The grant was funded, in part, by the Jelly Bean Angel Fund for Innovation, the brainchild of fund holder Vicki Brackens, president of Brackens Financial Solutions Network. After receiving support towards her dreams early in her business career, Brackens sought to focus her charitable giving on igniting the spirit of entrepreneurship through local business and economic innovation.

“When I look around upstate New York, I see that there’s tremendous potential, but we have to crack that potential open,” said Brackens. “I also thought that as a business owner, an entrepreneur, and a woman of color, others would see what we are doing and say, ‘You know what? She kind of looks like me. That fund was started by someone who I can relate to,’ hopefully inspiring others to step in, too.”

The restaurant’s next iteration, With Love, Burma, is reopening at the beginning of August. “I’d be so happy if this became a bit of a community hub,” said Sudmann. “I’d like to see it as a place where different groups of people always feel comfortable and welcome.”

In addition to the Jelly Bean Angel Fund for Innovation, funding for the Community Foundation grant was provided by the James & Aileen Miller Fund, founded in 2010 to help meet the needs of inner-city neighborhoods and the broader community.

Excited to give “that first yes” to entrepreneurs new to business development, Brackens hopes her fund can serve as a catalyst for innovation. “Even if our funding is a small amount, it’s really a validation of their idea and the risk that they’re about to take,” said Brackens. “The community is saying to them, ‘Go for it.’”

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