autism cafe in Chicago
Nationwide grant program is helping 3 Black chefs elevate their autism-friendly Chicago restaurants

Retired Army veteran Quinton McNair, was faced with unprecedented times, just like the rest of the world. With more free time on his hands due to the pandemic, he took a unique approach to handling stress and channeling creativity.

McNair’s two specific goals during this difficult time were to grow out his beard and perfect his baking skills. While these may seem like unrelated goals, they both served as important outlets for him.

He had been struggling with depression and PTSD and found that these two activities brought him peace and joy.

Strugglebeard Bakery in Hyde Park’s Harper

After months of struggling, he opened Strugglebeard Bakery in Hyde Park’s Harper Court in October, which later became known as a popular spot for delicious baked goods and strong support within the Autism community.

While he was able to build a successful business, the financial struggles continued as he brought on employees. The first payroll rolled around, and he was faced with the challenge of paying his employees more than his own rent.

Despite these challenges, McNair remained steadfast in pursuing his passions and using them as a form of therapy during difficult times.

Hope finally

Things turned around for McNair when he received a grant of $1 million from the Black Kitchen Initiative, an organization committed to empowering and supporting Black food business owners.

This financial aid was crucial in helping McNair grow his bakery and make a positive impact in his community by providing job opportunities. He is just one of 62 recipients this year who have been awarded grants by the Black Kitchen Initiative, which aims to level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs in an industry.

Support Organizations

This was all possible due to the support provided by the Let’s Empower Employment Initiative nonprofit, the Heinz company, and the Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice coalition. These organizations recognized the potential of Strugglebeard Bakery and provided the necessary resources to help McNair overcome his financial struggles.

There are other entrepreneurs who also received similar grants, legacy businesses being one of them, who have been operating for a minimum of 20 years. These grants vary in amount depending on the individual’s needs and business plans. While McNair was grateful for the $15,000 grant he received, legacy businesses were eligible to receive $25,000 due to their longevity and contribution to their respective communities.

Freedom Finally

As for McNair, the grant allowed him to finally use his retirement and disability funds for their intended purpose rather than using them to keep his bakery afloat. This newfound financial freedom has given McNair the opportunity to focus on growing his business.

Many entrepreneurs, especially those from marginalized communities, face a great deal of stress on their road to success. That’s why here at Illinois Autism Center, we emphasize mental health support for our entrepreneurs. We understand the value of mental well-being when it comes to achieving success.