Community LINX

Clinton School of Public Service students craft a plan for a bistro to provide opportunities for the recently incarcerated

Reggie Ballard, Christine McCall, Terry Mazany, Karen Zuccardi, and Nick Stevens.

The Clinton School of Public Service is one of the more unique institutions in the Sullivan family of schools. Part of the University of Arkansas system, it is located at President Bill Clinton’s presidential center in Little Rock.

The center offers a Master of Public Service program known for its hands-on approach. In 2018, as part of adjunct professor Terry Mazany’s Social Entrepreneurship class, four University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students got a chance to dive head first into that hands-on ethos. They created a business plan for a new concept for a full-service casual dining restaurant in Little Rock. The plan culminated with a presentation at The Venture Center in Little Rock.

Reggie Ballard, Christine McCall, Nick Stevens, and Karen Zuccardi worked together to create the plan for LINX Bistro, a restaurant with a mission to employ formerly incarcerated men and women and provide them with the professional work and life skills needed to reintegrate into society.

The students present the concept for the LINX Bistro.

“Each of the students in the class had identified a social challenge and had developed a social enterprise to tackle that challenge,” says Mazany. “After they developed those prototypes, for the last third of the semester they deliberated and decided they would support the restaurant idea, and from there it took another round of development to create a business plan.”

The social challenge and business solution came from McCall. She attended college and lived in Boston where Haley House, a non-profit with a similar mission to LINX Bistro, has thrived for more than 50 years.

“If you have a cool restaurant, like Haley House, with artwork on the walls, musicians who visit, programs for kids, you’re going to have different people come in because that’s the place to be,” says McCall. “That’s the meeting place, the melting pot, It’s called LINX Bistro because we want to link different people and communities together.”

The first step in the process was to document the need. In this case, it was necessary to see what was already being done in terms of services being offered to address the challenges of recidivism. Thirty-two percent of individuals released from prison in Arkansas will return within a year. Formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to find work and reintegrate into normal society and community life.

Next, the students researched similar enterprises and conducted interviews. The group reached out to other restaurants with similar business models, including Café Reconcile in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Haley House Bakery Café in Boston Massachussetts. Clinton School alum Jordan Butler, who is currently in the planning phases of Refill Café in Jackson, Mississippi, also offered advice.

Christine McCall with Grandma’s Bread.

The students interviewed individuals who could benefit from these services, including potential employees and customers. This process led to a clear profile of the need, workforce, and the customers of the restaurant. From there, a marketing plan and budget were built.

“It was intentionally structured to be a real business plan,” says Mazany. “It was designed to be pretty close to something that you could use as the basis for the proposal to a foundation.”

Partnerships with employee recruitment and training were identified. Organizational structures and financial projections were set. Different areas of Little Rock were scouted as potential locations, including University Plaza, Main Street, and West 12th Street.

“Looking at Haley House, Refill or Reconcile, the purpose of these places is to represent the community,” says McCall. “The people working there, we want them to feel comfortable. And the customers, we want them to come to a neighborhood and connect with people that they might not see or interact with on a daily basis. We want to link people together and provide a space where everyone feels like a part of the family.”

Finally, the plan included a menu, complete with starters, entrees, and desserts featuring healthy twists on American classics. The team even offered one menu item—Grandma’s Bread—at Wednesday’s presentation.

“LINX Bistro’s concept is all about nurturing fresh options, for your personal life, for your professional life, and the community at-large and linking all of those together,“ says McCall.

“The presentation went fabulous,” says Mazany.

This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared on the Clinton School’s news site. To read the original piece or learn more about Randolph-Macon, visit clintonschool.uasys.edu.

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