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Grant Brown recalls a audible acknowledgment back his wife, Carolyn, told him about her aggressive dream to accessible a restaurant in a long-shuttered, battered anatomy in the boilerplate of austere acreage fields.

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But not aloof any restaurant. She capital it to be a nonprofit, community-building enactment area barter paid what they absitively they could afford.

“I anticipation she was nuts,” he said on a contempo Tuesday afternoon. “I’d never heard of such a thing.”

“He told me I was effing nuts,” Carolyn Brown adapted with a trace of her built-in Tennessee lilt. Again she laughed hard, a cavity actualization abutting to her smile, eyes about vanishing into her face.

Lots of bodies anticipation Brown was nuts, and told her.

Now, some of those skeptics are amid the estimated 700 volunteers at The Kitchen Table, her nonprofit pay-what-you-can restaurant, amid in what had been the accident of a steakhouse amid two cornfields on the outskirts of Rochelle, about 80 afar west of Chicago. And some of the aboriginal doubters additionally accept become customers.

That Tuesday afternoon, Brown and her bulk aggregation of a half-dozen advance cooks able an aboriginal Thanksgiving barbecue for about 175 people. Her bedmate joked that it was the alone abode he could get his wife’s best cooking.

The Kitchen Table will mark 18 months in operation in December, and it is financially advantageous abundant that Brown afresh created a “benevolent fund” to advice those in allegation pay for groceries, medication, account bills, alike car payments. Now she’s planning to alpha a scholarship armamentarium for the adolescent bodies she sees eat at her abode frequently, and she’d like to aggrandize the 38-seat capacity.

“I never dreamed it would accomplish it this far,” her bedmate said. “I assumption her dreams are bigger than mine.”

Three-year rebuild

The restaurant merges two apparatus of Brown’s life, and she took an absurd aisle to get there.

Born and aloft in east Tennessee, she abstruse to adapt full-course commons for ample groups at age 8. Twenty years later, active in Rochelle, she abstruse to adapt alone tax allotment for ample numbers of bodies beyond the assets spectrum.

“You accommodated a lot of people,” said Brown, 49, of adjacent Ashton. “You apprehend a lot of stories.”

She paused. Tears welled in her eyes. “They break in your brain. Bodies put too abundant accent on finances.”

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She got to apperceive the capacity of peoples’ lives and started alms aliment to those she anticipation bare it. “Most bodies accepted, and again it affectionate of expanded,” Brown said.

By 2011, she said, she was harping on her bedmate to body a kitchen in their basement that would accredit her to baker and accord abroad commons to the broader public. She looked into how to get canton bloom administration allotment but begin that cost-prohibitive.

That led her to the shuttered Klondike Steakhouse. It had bankrupt about 2002, fell into foreclosure and was in abreast charcoal when, afterwards diffuse negotiations, Brown acquired the architecture in 2013 for $6,000.

The Browns tore bottomward best of the anatomy and gutted the rest, enlisting the advice of assassin crews, accompany and ancestors and alike some passers-by who asked what was happening. They installed new plumbing, electrical arrangement and catchbasin tank. They accomplished a new well, replaced the roof and added siding.

It took three years and was adjourned afterwards debt, Brown said. Instead, she acclimated payments from her tax work, awash her bootleg salsa at farmers markets and hosted concerts to accession money.

Tracy Richardson, 45, of Rochelle, was amid those who helped. She recalled that Brown had talked for years about creating what became The Kitchen Table.

Brown is actual apprenticed and can be tough, Richardson said, but additionally is “very forgiving” and “would accord you the covering off her back” if she knew you were cold.

“Her mission in activity is to augment people,” Richardson said. “That’s how she shows her love, and she wants to do it area bodies don’t accept to feel ashamed about it.”

Brown and her bedmate sunk $80,000 into the establishment, she said, and invested endless hours of labor. Last year, they abutting One Apple Everybody Eats, an all-embracing nonprofit of 65 pay-what-you-can cafes.

The restaurant opened on June 30, 2016, and served about 175 bodies the aboriginal day, demography in $1,500, Brown said.

Unlikely association builder

That cardinal has collapsed off to an boilerplate of 125 bodies a night, she said. The Kitchen Table is accessible on Tuesdays and Thursdays, confined dinners from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in a amplitude that’s a mash-up of bank and farmhouse.

Railroad bridge and cartage signs, two trumpets, a miniature dejected guitar and a tractor bench beautify the cedar-board walls. In the tiny antechamber is a accord pole corrective with the words, “Believe there is acceptable in the world,” two accomplish from a grandfathering clock. A behemothic metal mailbox sits in the rafters. Above the kitchen window is a assurance that reads, “There will be a $5 allegation for whining.”

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“Greeters” appear to anniversary of six tables to booty orders — usually one or two capital dishes with several sides, drinks and desserts. At the end of the meal, barter are handed a vinyl bill holder. Inside is a printed area thanking them and answer that The Kitchen Table is “a donation and volunteer-based eatery/community cafe.” Addition area provides a website for volunteers to register.

Customers abode a donation — or annihilation — in the vinyl holder and duke it to their greeter or a accountant abreast the entrance.

Brown said The Kitchen Table has operated with a surplus back day one, abundantly because anybody who helps and all the lath associates are volunteers. Companies and individuals additionally abetment by altruistic aliment and equipment. And, she said she’s a appealing boxy adjudicator on prices from vendors.

For about six months, Brown said, she approved a appropriate $5 donation, but anticipation alike that baby bulk inhibited bodies clumsy to allow it. She did abroad with the suggestion. The Kitchen Table’s revenues rose.

On the Tuesday and Thursday the anniversary afore Thanksgiving, the restaurant served acceptable feasts of turkey breast, pork loin, meatballs, mashed and candied potatoes, a array of vegetables and pie. Brown said 284 bodies accustomed commons on those two nights, and the restaurant brought in added than $1,400, a tidy sum because that Brown said she can augment a being for beneath than $2.

Since its opening, The Kitchen Table has served 12,400 meals, Brown said. In accession to agriculture assemblage who appear to the bistro at Klondike Road and Lincoln Highway, either to eat in or booty out, the restaurant additionally delivers to homes, a calm abandon shelter, a men’s apartment and an assisted active home for seniors.

Brown said she is an absurd being to accessible a nonprofit association restaurant. She alleged herself her parents’ affliction child, a alienated boyhood who did able-bodied in academy but additionally trafficked drugs. At 16, Brown affiliated an calumniating man, became a mother and afar back she was 21.

She spent about 26 months confined in Tennessee for an aggravated robbery confidence in 1992. In 2007, hundreds of accoutrements of dollars in medical bills from a blight analysis and analysis led her to book for bankruptcy. Today, she is cancer-free.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my activity and I anticipate that all of them accord to who I am,” Brown said. Her confidence extracted her from a alarming activity that would accept dead her at a adolescent age, she added. The acquaintance showed her that bodies allegation advice and that individuals can affected their pasts.

Her adventure is an apt example. She concluded up with an accounting amount and serves as admiral and controlling administrator of a acknowledged nonprofit.

“I do accept what I’m accomplishing now is what I’m declared to be doing,” she said. “It completes me.”

Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Different bodies all welcome

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On the Tuesday afternoon of the aboriginal Thanksgiving feast, bodies alleged or absolved in alms donations: eight accoutrements of corn, area cakes, beans, rice and squash.

Shortly afterwards 5 p.m., the abode was about full. Brown was alive in the kitchen and handing racks of aliment to a commitment man. Added than a dozen volunteers formed the kitchen and greeted diners.

“I like to do whatever I can to advice out,” said Sean Adams, a home architect from Byron who was busing tables. He said it was admirable to see bodies from altered walks of activity adore anniversary other’s aggregation and booty their time over a adorable meal. “I anticipate this is a abundant idea.”

Dawn Johnson and her mother, Karen Smith, active a table. Johnson said the restaurant “is a huge account to Rochelle,” by allowance bodies who absolutely allegation it and giving others a adventitious to advice their neighbors.

Smith alleged the restaurant, “my admired abode in all of Rochelle,” for abundant the aforementioned acumen as Adams. “It doesn’t amount what your base in activity is, you’re acceptable here,” she said.

That notion, of bodies from altered walks of activity adequate a meal calm at The Kitchen Table, is “the accomplished joy of it,” Brown said.

“People accomplish friendships. Bodies advance affinity with one another. Bodies chit-chat,” she said. “It’s about bringing our association together, because bodies can be so judgmental. To me, we’re all the same. We aloof appear from altered walks of activity and we accomplish altered activity choices.”

Harsh judgments may be abatement in Rochelle. Concepts of affable anybody and allowance neighbors in allegation may be decidedly acute this anniversary season.

Eight canicule afore Thanksgiving, account bankrupt that a Japanese abuse car architect in boondocks absent an estimated $352 actor arrangement to body accelerated commuter trains for Amtrak. At its aiguille in 2015, the massive Nippon Sharyo bulb active 694 workers.

By October, that cardinal had alone to 54.

In added means than ever, perhaps, The Kitchen Table doesn’t attending like a crazy abstraction afterwards all.

tgregory@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @tgregoryreports

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