Cooking up relief

Cookbook campaign aims to aid Lincoln Park community

Jim Lundstrom

So the virus forces you to close your four businesses and lay off 200 people. What do you do then? Draw your head into your turtle shell and wait for this awful time to come to an end?

Not if you are a group of Lincoln Park businessmen who care about where you live, the people who work for you and the people who support your businesses.

“Tom called me and said, ‘Let’s get the band back together’,” said Robert Lillegard, owner of the Lincoln Park business Duluth’s Best Bread and author of two acclaimed cookbooks The Duluth Grill Cookbook (2014) and The Duluth Grill Cookbook II (2016).

The Tom he refers to is Tom Hanson, owner of the Duluth Grill, Corktown Deli, OMC Smokehouse and the relatively new cocktail lounge Noble Pour. With the threat of illness and worse from the pandemic, Hanson laid off 200 people from those businesses.

The “band” he referred to is the group that made the previous two cookbooks happen, and besides Hanson and Lillegard, includes Tobbi Stager, owner of another Lincoln Park business, JS Print Group. Together they came up with a plan for a new cookbook and a way to help their community.

“We talked about how we could make it have maximum impact.,” Lillegard said. “Tobbi thought of the book, Tom thought of the charity and I thought of helping other businesses. There’s a lot of different involvement, so that’s kind of neat.”

Actually, Stager said based on the success of the previous two cookbooks, he had been pushing for an OMC Smokehouse Cookbook for a couple of years, but it seemed the perfect time for it when combined as a fundraiser for the community.

“We love Lincoln Park,” Stager said. “It’s sad to see the streets empty right now.”

Knowing what the shuttered businesses means to the larger community, the idea was to pre-sell the cookbook in an Indiegogo crowdsource campaign. For $25 you can buy the book, but pay $50 and you get the book upon its September release, purchase a $15 gift card from a West End business and give $10 to the Lifting Lincoln Park fund, which is managed by the nonprofit Ecolibrium3.

“It actually means three different things,” said Jodi Slick, founder and CEO of Ecolibrium3. “The first is it’s a great demonstration of being creative in a crisis for supporting local businesses. Two, it is also a demonstration of what has made the regeneration of Lincoln Park great, the fact that there has always been this collaborative atmosphere in and amongst the businesses.

“And the third thing is that the portion of the project that will go to Ecolibrium3 as a nonprofit is going to be used three different ways,” she said. “We will work with businesses for joint marketing as businesses are able to open in the future. We’ll reach out and help the Lincoln Park neighborhood where we find there are gaps being caused by the Covid-19 crisis. For example, just this week we worked with a number of businesses and organizations to provide 350 neighborhood children five breakfasts, lunches and snacks for this week because the school district isn’t providing because of spring break. It’s those kind of gaps that pop up and we need to figure out how to collaboratively solve.

“We’re also working with Main Street Lincoln Park,” Slick continued. “Depending on the funds raised, if there is a small business with an emergency need, we’ll be able to help with that. (depending on the funds raised.) We’re excited about the fact that I think people do love Lincoln Park and this is a very direct way to help this neighborhood."

“I think people are excited. They want to do something,” Lillegard said, noting that in just a few days the campaign was nearing its $50,000 goal. As of April 6, nearly $43,000 had been raised through 830 respondents, with the majority of them – 616 – paying the $50.

“We’re just starting the book, and every book has challenges,” Lillegard said. “I’m an optimist. I’ve done two cookbooks with these guys. I remember there were hard things, but I’ve forgotten wheat they are.”

While the cookbook is in its beginning stages, they needed something to show people what they had in mind.

“I was so impressed,” Lillegard said. “Beau Walsh from the Cultural North company did the sample cover. He’s a really good designer. He also designs taste tester boxes for Duluth’s Best Bread. That’s just a sample cover. It might not look like that, but we all like it. He had an idea and put it together really fast. He’s not even in the neighborhood, he’s just a good guy.”

You can order the cookbook and support the campaign at