Naperville restaurant changing lives of individuals with special needs

A new Naperville restaurant’s secret ingredient lies in the staff, as more than half of their employees have special needs.

"If I can make them visible here, then other businesses will see and maybe take example on our business model," said owner Thi Nguyen.

Nguyen and her husband used their life savings to open Chez Francois Poutinerie in downtown Naperville. They wanted to make sure their son, Francois, could find employment if something happened to them.

"[Only] 24-percent of that population have a job. They are under-employed or they're not even in the market of working, so for me I was thinking of my son, no one's going to hire him," said Nguyen.


Reflecting on her past, escaping the Vietnam War at the age of eight and moving to France and then Quebec, she didn’t want her son to face similar hardships.

Paige Krause is one of about 60 special needs employees who will be working in the restaurant.

"You don't really get that many opportunities when you're special needs. It took me a long time to even get my first job," she said.

Nguyen said interest in the restaurant spans far and wide, with employees coming from Plainfield, Oswego, Berwyn, Libertyville and Gurnee.

Special needs employees will be teamed up with a buddy, who will assist them in their daily tasks. Every employee will be paid the same amount, depending on their job, starting at $15 an hour.

The restaurant’s concept of crunchy fries smothered in authentic cheese curds and savory gravy ties into Nguyen’s Canadian roots.

"I told my husband, why don't we open a poutine restaurant, it's an easy concept, there's a lot of repetition and special needs, they are good with that," she said.

When the restaurant opens in July, it will feature nine varieties of poutine along with four salads, some with Vietnamese flair.

"Now it's time for me to give back to the community," said Nguyen. "My love for the family, my love for the community and my love for the French Canadian dish that I want to share with everybody in Naperville!"

See the menu and business hours HERE.