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'I call it the grow and go' -- Rockford entrepreneur gives a helping hand

Yvonne Boose

A Rockford restaurant owner is offering individuals the opportunity to gain culinary certifications and a few other skills.

Sonny’s Place serves Southern style cuisine. Jurea Crudup is the owner of the restaurant and founder of Awaken Foundation L3c. Crudup worked in healthcare for 27 years.

“One day I was at the emergency room," she said. "And when I was working, it was on a night shift, and gunshots were –- it was bad, it was really bad.”

Crudup said that’s when she decided to change her service work. She thought about some things that all people needed. One of them was food.

“So, as I built up this foundation," she said, "my goal was to be able to give minorities a better opportunity getting in structure of cooking. And then also in building.”

She said her parents were change agents.

“So, my father always taught us," Crudup explained, "what does it look like to be a person to be able to add to your community instead of always complaining?”

His name is Sonny Crudup, and he ran a well-known record store -- Ubiquity Records -- in the city for several decades. The younger Crudup grabbed pieces of her father’s store and incorporated them into the eatery’s theme.
Each wall is decorated with pictures of hip-hop and other artists who visited Ubiquity.

Crudup said she did some research before she put her plans into motion.
“I went to see what best practices looked like," she said. "My best practices were out of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and then one in Las Vegas that was very successful. And one in Philadelphia.”

The trainees receive on-the-job training. They are the ones who cook and serve the customers. They receive most of their basic training on Mondays, when the restaurant’s closed.

Yvonne Boose

Ashley Johnson is a part of the culinary program and the owner of Divine Sweets. The 25-year-old started in November of last year. She said being a part of this training relit something in her.

“Ms. Jurea has believed in, like, the visions, you know, the things that we put out, she, like, pushes it and she's excited for us," Johnson said. "So, it's added like that spark back into my life personally, as well as into my, you know, my culinary career for sure.”

Dalonda Russell, 27, is also a part of the program, but her focus is on hospitality. She owns Agape D’esserts.

“I've been given the opportunity to learn about catering the right way, Russell said. "You know, naturally, like, having some guidance and being able to like bake in the restaurant and work on my skills."

Crudup said both Johnson and Russell help with the restaurant. Johnson is the line manager and Russell is gearing up to assist her.

Johnson added that the apprenticeship is not only giving her career skills -- it also serves as a support system.

“We all just encourage each other because sometimes there's things in life that, you know, kind of could stop us from being there," she explained. "But Ms. Jurea is very encouraging. Everybody's super supportive of each other and we're learning a lot."

In addition to catering and hospitality apprenticeships, Crudup also offers programs for construction and landscaping under the Awaken Foundation L3C.

Crudup said managing the foundation keeps her busy, but she has plenty of outside support.

“Our partners are Rockford Housing, Winnebago County, which is called NIReACH Housing. Also, with Habitat here and in DeKalb," she added. "I now have a relationship with Habitat down in DeKalb. And Meta down in DeKalb.”

Mortenson Construction is another DeKalb business that the foundation works with.

Crudup said her overall mission is to service minorities who aren’t necessarily college bound. She wants to give them the skills that will catapult their careers.

“I want to go sit at their table one day, whether it is food truck, or they're catering for an event that I know — that's my goal," she explained. "I call it the grow and go."

Those who are interested in becoming a part of one or more of the apprenticeships can apply by going to the foundation’s website.


Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.