Appetite For Change: Business Law Pro Bono from the Client’s Perspective

This week, we’ll be posting pro bono client stories that show how business law lawyers have helped people struggling to participate in the market economy obtain economic justice or at least access to economic justice through direct legal services to people and/or or nonprofit organizations of limited means who provide services to individuals of limited means. 

appforchange

Appetite For Change (AFC) just celebrated the beginning of its fifth year of service to the North Minneapolis community. It’s been one wild ride, but without business law pro bono legal help, the road we’ve travelled would have been a lot bumpier.

AFC is a 501(c)(3) food justice social enterprise headquartered in North Minneapolis (Northside). Our neighborhood is one of the most culturally rich, yet challenged, parts of the Twin Cities. AFC’s mission is to use food as a tool for building health, wealth and social change. AFC uses food as a vehicle to organize the Northside community and to create the change that Northsiders want to see in their food environment and policies. Healthy, nutritious food options are generally lacking in the Northside food environment, perpetuating longstanding inequities that disproportionately burden the Northside’s predominantly African-American community. AFC is working to change that. We offer traditional programming like cooking, nutrition and gardening workshops, urban agriculture and leadership development activities in the realm of food policy and advocacy. Our vision is that every Northside child will have the opportunity to grow up healthy and happy in their own community.

I started AFC in 2011, motivated by my passion for food, social justice and the inspiration I gained from becoming a mother. I hoped to teach other young mothers how to prepare nutritious and delicious foods using urban-farmed produce while building community with one another. When I started AFC I was a “recovering public defender” and I had little professional experience in non-profit and business management. Fortunately, I surrounded myself with talented people whose passion for AFC’s mission matched my own. In 2012, I met Princess Titus and Latasha Powell, women with strong ties to the Northside community. We partnered to expand AFC’s reach and to grow the organization.

In late 2014, AFC’s growth required us to find new space. Up to that point, our staff of six had been sharing a single 250 square foot office in a local church. Moreover, by expanding into the new space we had identified, AFC could bring a long-time Northside goal to fruition: starting a soul-food fusion restaurant in an area with very few “real food” options. There were a number of very complex legal issues standing between us and the space we wanted. As part of the lease AFC would be required to take over of an existing commercial kitchen incubator business—Kindred Kitchen—that had been operated by the building owner. We also planned to build a new café in an empty space next to the kitchen. Moreover, we encountered legal issues relating to prior grant funding and program-related investments connected to the property. While our lease negotiations were ongoing, we realized that we also needed to refine our governing documents. We needed to amend our Articles of Incorporation to expand our charitable purpose and we needed to restate our bylaws to adopt a governance structure befitting AFC’s growth.

I knew that AFC needed to do these projects right. Needless to say, my experience as a public defender did not quite prepare me to solve legal puzzles involving commercial real estate and complex corporate governance. We needed help.

Enter our business law pro bono legal team. I reached out to Fredrikson & Byron, a full service law firm, for AFC’s pro bono legal needs. I was connected with a shareholder in the firm’s real estate group who negotiated AFC’s new lease. Although the deal involved only 5,000 square feet of commercial real estate, the lease took over nine months to finalize because of the complications involved. This real estate legal expertise was crucial to resolving those challenges. I was also introduced to a business lawyer who had extensive experience in both for-profit and nonprofit governance and structuring as well as social enterprise. An entire legal team helped us to restate AFC’s articles and bylaws, structure the relationship between AFC, the cafe and Kindred Kitchen as well as draft a lease for use with our tenants at Kindred Kitchen.

Our business law pro bono team helped AFC lay the groundwork for expansion, and AFC has grown by leaps and bounds. In four short years we have expanded from a tiny nonprofit into a burgeoning social venture that is leading the Northside food justice movement and bringing major economic development to a marginalized commercial corridor in the city of Minneapolis. We moved into our new office space. We doubled our budget from $500,000 in 2014 to over $1,000,000 this year. Our pro bono partnership with our business law lawyers has also facilitated opportunities to collaborate with other Northside organizations like the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON).

On April 29th, 2015, AFC opened Breaking Bread Café and Catering and since that time have already hosted a pop-up restaurant with one of NEON’s start-up business clients. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges spoke at the Café’s grand opening, as did celebrity chef and television personality Andrew Zimmern. As part of his remarks Zimmern applauded the AFC-Breaking Bread endeavor as an entrepreneurial catalyst and a space for community to join together sharing a meal. Mayor Hodges said of AFC and Breaking Bread, “This is the future of Minneapolis.”

As much as AFC has grown in the past year, we expect to grow even more in the near future. Just three weeks after we opened Breaking Bread, AFC secured a small business loan from The Nonprofits Assistance Fund and City Planning and Economic Development. We have hired thirteen new full time staff for the kitchen and Café, almost all of whom are members of the Northside community. In June 2015 AFC will launch a kick starter campaign to raise funds for a new youth training and employment program, which will allow us to expand the Café and catering operation still further. Fourteen of the top chefs in the Twin Cities have donated culinary experiences as rewards for this campaign. AFC has been featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and on various local television news programs. The business law pro bono legal assistance we received helped make this transformation possible.

Michelle Horovitz is a recovering public defender and Co-founder and Executive Director of Appetite For Change

Matthew Stortz is an attorney at Fredrikson & Byron where he practices as a corporate and tax associate and is a proud member of the Appetite for Change legal team.

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