Food waste, food access and food insecurity are all complex issues. Chef Dave Heide of Little John’s Kitchens is taking on those issues, and more on multiple levels. Chef Heide has founded Little John’s Kitchens to funnel excess food from farms and stores and people who want to learn cooking skills, into healthy meals that are “made with love”. He shares more about his “Pay What You Can” restaurant, as well as how the organization he leads is helping those with a variety of needs in the community. 

What do farmers who have too many tomatoes do when they can’t afford to pick their crop? How about a grocery store that ends up with products about to expire? What does someone in recovery from addiction and living in a group home do when no one wants to hire them? Where can a veteran who is struggling with PTSD find a job that will also offer an on site social worker to help them navigate their benefits? Where can a single mom without much extra money get a meal that is inexpensive, quick and nutritious for her family? Hard to believe the answer to all of those questions could be answered by just one place. But Little John’s Kitchen aims to do all of that and more once they are into their new space. 

Fundraising is well under way for the new space, located on Verona Rd in Madison. Chef Heide shares about how strategic partnerships with local government and organizations have built a solid base for big goals. In their current space they provide about 17,000 meals per week, via Meals on Wheels, school lunches and meals for those in transitional housing. In the new space, they’ll increase to over 200,000 meals each week. 

Little John’s Kitchens isn’t a non-profit, Chef Heide is quick to point that out. He says that because the organization isn’t solely funded by donations, he can afford to pay the farmers he works with for their products and can pay people in training a living wage while they are enrolled in the program. There are also funds available so that every person who goes through the training program can go onto further their education with guaranteed admission to Madison College. 

For Chef Heide one thing is clear, food is love. His goal is to make sure that people in need in our area feel like they are wanted and cared for using fresh, healthy, chef quality meals as the messenger.