Linda Schukman is an English teacher at Leavenworth High School and lives in Lansing. She and her husband, John are investors and participants in Anna’s Oven and fundraising projects through Friends of St. Anne’s that support a girls’ school in Kenya.
1. Linda, you are an English teacher. You are also an investor at Anna’s Oven that donates half its profits to an all-girls school in Kenya. How did you become involved in the restaurant business and did the fact that the restaurant has such humanitarian goals attract you to become an investor?
My husband, John, a local contractor in Leavenworth, is also a very active investor and participant in both Anna’s Oven and the fundraising projects through Friends of St. Anne’s that supports the school. We are engaged in these projects as a couple.Anna’s Oven is at 1809 W 39th St in KC, Mo, just east of KU Med Center, on the street commonly known as “restaurant row.” The experienced restaurateur is Ling Chang, owner of Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill, and partner in the Blue Koi. She has been in the restaurant business for her entire adult life, and John, my husband, and I (as well as the other investors) have unending confidence in her expertise.
The driving force behind opening Anna’s Oven was to provide a steady source of income for our education project in Kenya. We intend to expand our efforts to the metro area and Leavenworth County as soon as we can.
In 2009 a small group of people came together with the goal of improving conditions at a girls’ school in a tiny village in Kenya. Among them were a successful restaurateur, a lawyer, several teachers and a couple of darn good cooks. This group formed Friends of St. Anne’s Girls’ School, Kapkemich, Kenya (FOSA), provided funds to make many improvements at the school, and invested countless hours to other projects designed to enhance education in the village.
The success of FOSA spurred another idea. Why not broaden the scope of the effort to improve education, and establish a source of income for those efforts at the same time?
After all, they could only rely on their friends to attend fundraising events and donate cash so many times. The group, although made up of the same people, formed a corporation, and opened Anna’s Oven.
The central mission of the investors in this endeavor is to dedicate 50 percent of all profits to support education in places where otherwise it might not thrive. While some of those funds will be dedicated to finishing projects in Kapkemich, support of local education will also occur. The possibilities of grants and scholarships to improve education in the metro area are endless! Your support of Anna’s Oven will help make that possible.
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Please note, FOSA is a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit entity independent and separate from Anna’s Oven which is part of an S corporation.
Here’s the inside story on how the restaurant idea got started. After we finished planning the second annual “gala” to support St. Anne’s, Ling became aware of an available restaurant space on 39th, brought the FOSA board together and said – “we need to find a way to provide a steady source of income for St. Anne’s.
Let’s open a comfort food restaurant. Let’s all be partners – come on – it’ll be fun!” The signature lasagna dish of Anna’s Oven is a recipe created by my in-laws, Ruth and Dan. Ruth is my husband’s sister. She learned how to make the noodles from Anna, their grandmother, and over the years she and Dan adapted his mother’s lasagna recipe by using Anna’s noodles as well as some modifications of their own. This lasagna had been a favorite of Ling’s (and almost everyone else) when invited to Ruth and Dan’s house for dinner – for decades! Anyway, we formed an S Corporation, for Anna’s Oven, which is totally separate from FOSA, even though the same people are involved.
We cleaned, remodeled, shopped, planned, painted and tested many recipes, and here we are!
2. What type of food does the restaurant specialize in and what's the most popular dish?
Anna’s Oven specializes in comfort food for busy professionals and families who want a home-cooked meal without the time commitment and the mess.
Everything is made fresh daily, just as if it were in your own kitchen. The menu grew from a treasured family recipe for lasagna. It’s quite unique, in that the paper thin noodles are made fresh every day, as are the sauces used in this dish. We offer several types of lasagna (traditional spicy, and vegetarian – gluten free is on the horizon), and other noodle dishes (chicken and noodles to die for), as well as several types of macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a couple kinds of rotisserie chicken (traditional and 10-spice).
There are also a few soups and salads, for the lighter appetite. Desserts come from family recipes as well – cookies made the old-fashioned way, caramel fudge brownies, and blueberry-pineapple cobbler.
Anna’s Oven and the food we offer here are both inspired by a real person. During the Great Depression Anna worked daily to strengthen bonds among family and friends.
Anna was patient, kind, and funny. She listened to us. She hugged us. And regardless of a meager budget, there was always good food at Anna’s table. She made noodles, soups, stews, bread and pastries; those recipes have been handed down from generation to generation, and many of them are on our menu today.
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Times have changed dramatically since the Depression, and there is little time for home cooking. Anna’s Oven provides hearty meals and time for you to spend with friends and family. Please also know 50 percent of all profit will help support education in places where otherwise it might not thrive.
We honor Anna and her love of family with this menu, and we hope that by sharing this meal we can ease the pressure of your busy schedule while you strengthen bonds with your friends and family as Anna did with hers.
We wish you happy friend and family time, full of love, laughter and good food – from our hearth to your home.
3. Can you tell us about the school in Kenya and how the money the restaurant sends benefits the girls who study there?
In all honesty, Anna’s Oven hasn’t sent any money to Kenya yet – so we are relying on ourselves and the results of our fundraising at this point – as soon as Anna’s on her feet, she’ll contribute as well.
In a nutshell, we’ve built a library, helped pay for an additional dormitory, purchased desks for the new freshman class (called Form Ones), funded several other smaller requests from the school, and have recently sent money so that construction of a science lab can begin. Just last week we received pictures of that project just getting under way. This past summer we partnered with another not-for-profit organization, World Energy Project out of Omaha, and sent representatives to Kapkemich to determine if the library is a suitable candidate for solar panels. Fortunately, the group has agreed to make our new library their project for the summer of 2012. The team will go to Kapkemich, install the panels, and train a villager to maintain them. This will provide the school with a reliable source of power. Most villagers have no power, and for those who do, the existing source is hydroelectric, and is neither reliable nor consistent. We are currently working to fill a 40-foot shipping container with books for the library, as well as other supplies the school officials have requested. We hope to ship it within the next 60 days.
4. What's the most satisfying part of serving good food and doing charitable and helpful acts with the profits? Do you think more businesses will eventually adopt this idea?
When we cook for our friends or family at home, we all derive a great deal of pleasure in serving food that everyone enjoys. By the same token it feels great to see someone enjoying a meal that we’ve created at Anna’s Oven – and we’re quite proud of our family recipes.
The driving force behind the establishment of Anna’s Oven is to help others with the profits. The investors in this project are fortunate in that we don’t need to rely on Anna for a source of income. It’s very fulfilling to work towards a goal, and to see how far a dollar goes in a place like Kenya. We can’t wait to expand our efforts, and include some education projects in the metro area and Leavenworth County as well. I think I can speak for all 10 of the investors when I say that it’s 10 times more fulfilling to work intimately with a charitable project rather than simply writing a check. I love the old Swedish proverb – “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.”
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Do I think other businesses might follow suit? I don’t know – working hard and giving of yourself to improve conditions for others, whether it’s close at home or far away is an individual choice. It just happens that the venture with Anna’s Oven is the right choice for this particular group of people.
5. Which is easier, being a restaurateur, or an English teacher?
I couldn’t begin to tell you what being a restaurateur is like. We rely heavily on Ling, and know her job is endless – and we are so grateful for her expertise.
Most of us have had a little taste of what it’s like to work at Anna’s Oven, but we can’t hold a candle to our staff who works there day in and day out, sometimes under less than desirable circumstances. But I can tell you this – both jobs – restaurateur and teacher – are HARD, and require a true love of serving others.
Both are very time consuming – there are long hours of behind the scenes work that most people don’t see – both in the restaurant business as well as in education. So to be in either business, you just have to love what you do, and thrive on the sights and sounds of people enjoying the fruits of our labors – whether it’s good food or good teaching.
— Rimsie McConiga