Sarah and Brian Ingram Q&A

August 9, 2021
Sarah and Brian Ingram serve hope in their restaurants.

“Someone submitted a Share Your Hope card to express their appreciation of a local hospitality worker who was living in his car because he shared nearly 100 percent of his income with his extended family — paying for their rent, food, clothes, and other essentials. When we reached out to him to ask if we could share his story, he said he was just grateful to be able to work and support his family. He didn’t want any recognition, and actually asked us to repurpose the financial contribution we planned to give him toward another family who he said needed it more. Just wow.”

You run four purpose-driven restaurants in St. Paul and donate 3 percent of profits to charity. Which causes do you support?

The main focus of our efforts is centered on responding to crises in the community, most especially in providing direct service of meals and supplies to tackle food insecurity with families in need. Additionally, we focus on supporting hospitality workers in crisis through services and financial assistance.

You run the non-profit Give Hope and donated $21,000 to the family of Daunte Wright. What is your approach to advocacy?

Aside from contributions made directly by the restaurant group, Give Hope is our primary mechanism for making financial contributions to other non-profits aligned with our mission, and to individuals and families in need. Food insecurity is often directly associated with broader community crises, so Give Hope has contributed to a number of specific incidents that deepened the hunger divide across racial communities and neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. This includes the food outreach done in South Minneapolis in the late spring of 2020, following the death of George Floyd, financial contributions to families affected by gun violence during 2020-21, and supporting community-building organizations focused on strengthening youth programs and support systems in underserved neighborhoods.

You donated more than 2 million pounds of food in the community during the pandemic. Do restaurants do enough with their leftovers?

We are proud of the recovery and redistribution of food we were able to facilitate during the pandemic, and see this as a significant area of opportunity on an ongoing basis. There is far too much food waste and lack of targeted food distribution to neighborhoods, housing communities, and specific community residents in need. This was an issue prior to the pandemic, and although the pandemic increased our communal focus on food distribution and reduced waste, we have a long way to go to match food availability with need across our communities. Community-wide partnerships across food production, distribution, programs and agencies, and government programs, must continue to strengthen.

How did your restaurants fare during the pandemic? What adjustments did you make to keep the lights on?

The pandemic was clearly a difficult time for the restaurant industry, and ours were certainly affected by shutdowns, changes in operating requirements, and now speedy ramp-up in a very tight labor market. We focused on being nimble, retaining as many of our employees as possible, and finding new ways to feed the community, including offering creative outdoor events and to-go services. We were fortunate to have all of our operations survive the winter until spring patio and reopening season arrived, but it was certainly a tough time.

You have cooked all over the country, with many types of menus. Is there one heritage of food that you feel most connected to?

It would be hard to name a specific type of food, as I am motivated by the connection formed over any meal. As I develop any new concept or menu, I look to create a sense of family and connection in the experience, whether sitting around a breakfast table or sampling street food with friends.

You have taken over restaurants and restructured them, which is more affordable that starting from scratch. Any new ventures on the horizon?

We are looking at several new spaces across the Twin Cities, hoping to open a few new concepts and potentially expand one of our existing concepts to multiple locations. Nothing is ready to announce just yet, but we’re excited to share more during 2021.

How long have Share Your Hope cards been available for customers to share their dreams on? Any memorable offerings you can share?

There are honestly so many stories that come to mind, but one that was particularly inspiring was about a local hospitality worker who was living in his car because he shared nearly 100 percent of his income with his extended family – paying for their rent, food, clothes, and other essentials. Someone submitted a Share Your Hope card to express their appreciation of him, and when we reached out to him to ask if we could share his story, he said he was just grateful to be able to work and support his family. He didn’t want any recognition, and actually asked us to repurpose the financial contribution we planned to give him toward another family “who needed it more” than he did. Just wow.

What’s next for Give Hope?

We are excited to continue to deepen our focus on crisis support to families in need, and to continuing to support hospitality workers as the economy slowly recovers. We are evaluating several broader partnerships with other non-profit organizations, and are tightening our processes to ensure we can be as responsive as possible to requests we receive, as well as communicate our efforts to a broader local audience. Give Hope was new in 2020, but our commitment is long-term and we’re excited to expand the impact we can have on the battle against food insecurity.