Both healthy Mediterranean restaurant, Roti, and local not-for-profit, Common Threads, are trying to make the make the world a healthier place, one meal at a time. With similar missions, they’ve joined forces to help raise money for Common Thread’s programming, which uses cooking classes to educate children on the importance of nutrition and well being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity.
This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Roti’s Director of Marketing, Peter Nolan, and Common Thread’s Associate Director of Development, Martha Williams.
What is it about Roti and what is it about Common Threads that makes the two organizations want to work together?
Peter: They have very simpatico missions. We serve healthy food and want to make the world a healthier place in our own small way. Working with people who are really on the front lines of creating a healthier world is important to us, and Common Threads is the best of that.
Martha: Our mission as an organization is to teach children about health and nutrition through hands on cooking classes, and while doing that we also teach about cultural diversity. We teach that if you put good food into your body, you are going to feel better. So for us, it is a no brainer to work with Roti. Our goal is to partner with organizations that have the same goal and mission that we do. We are in 4 cities right now, and Roti is in two of them – Chicago and D.C.
Have Roti and Common Threads worked together before?
Peter: Yes, we’ve been working together a couple years, and we have had a few very successful partnership events. We even did an event at the restaurant where we had 30 kids come in for a restaurant tour and how-to-make-humus class. The kids brought their families and had a family style meal.
Martha: Today we’ve been discussing our 2013 partnership. Both Roti and Common Threads are expanding. It’s fun to talk about what those expansions look like, and how we can partner as we both grow.
Roti’s slogan is “food that loves you back.” What does that mean?
Peter: In a literal way, it means you feel good after you eat at Roti. There’s no food coma, which you get after eating a meal that is too heavy, too high in calories, or has too much processed junk in it. And it’s also the idea of food as nourishment, and that gets to the fact that we don’t have anything artificial in our food. It’s real food prepared in simple ways, which is what your body wants. We recently went to organic chickpeas for our falafel and humus. We just changed all the salt that we use to something called Real Salt, which is mineral rich. We use all extra virgin olive oil.
My blog is focused on healthy eating out. What would you get at Roti if you were looking for a healthy meal?
Peter: I would get either a salad or Mediterranean plate with chicken kebab, which is all white meat chicken grilled on our grill, and then humus, a tomato cucumber salad, and vegetables. Lots of plants, legumes, and lean meat.
Could you tell me a bit about the programming at Common Threads?
Martha: The bread and butter of what we do is our cooking skills and world cuisine classes. It's a 10-week program for kids ages 8-12. Each week we do a meal from a different culture. Every meal that we teach the kids feeds a family of 4 for under $10, so it’s something that can easily be replicated. Within that program, we do a family cooking class, where we teach the parents what we’re teaching the kids, and then they cook and eat the meal together. We also have a parent outreach program that teaches the parents what we’re teaching the kids so it can be replicated at home. We do a garden outreach program, which actually takes the kids into the garden, shows them where food comes from and how they can grow their own food, and then they take it into the kitchen to cook with it. We have a summer camp program that has about 100 students for 2 weeks. And we are launching an in-school curriculum for 4th graders that teaches about healthy snacking and how to read nutrition labels.
Where are the classes taught?
Martha: Most of them are in the schools. We work exclusively with Chicago Public Schools. We are currently in 16 schools but we’re expanding to 20. If there is not a kitchen in the school, we find an off-site kitchen to bus the kids to. But most CPS schools have kitchens.
Right now, Roti is offering restaurant gift cards, a portion of which will go to Common Threads. How does that work ?
Peter: The 2012 gift card program is now through December 31. If a person purchases $200 or more worth of Roti gift cards, Roti will donate 10% of that to Common Threads. The idea is to get companies to support Common Threads and buy a bunch of $10 gift cards in bulk. We also expose Common Threads to a lot of customers. We have about 7,000 customers a day across all of our stores, and they are generally young professional people who would be great potential supporters and volunteers. It’s a unique way for a business to partner with a non-profit.
What is the best thing about Common Threads?
Martha: Seeing how much it effects the kids – how engaged the kids are in the classroom, how much they enjoy being a part of it. You can really foster a love of cooking with kids. We’ve even seen kids go on to culinary school from Common Threads.
Common Threads sounds amazing. How can I sign up?
Martha: Volunteer-wise, we have on average of 4 volunteers per class. Volunteers don’t need a chef background to volunteer, just a passion for cooking. Our chef instructors have a culinary background. We also have an associate board in Chicago for young professionals, which has a major event each year, along with other events, called The Cook Off. In addition, we have a national board and a regional board.
Our big annual fundraiser is called the World Festival, which will be held on March 4 at Soldier Field. About 80 chefs, a-list chefs, from across the country present with stations serving culturally diverse food. The students are there too. It’s a very cool event and attracts a lot of people. I think it is one of the most anticipated culinary events in Chicago.
On a donation level, anyone who wants to donate their money, or purchase tickets for World Festival, can visit our website at CommonThreads.org.
Thanks so much Peter and Martha!
To find out more about Common Threads or to donate, click here.
To learn more about Roti, click here.
* I was provided with a free lunch at Roti, but any opinions expressed above are my own.