Lisle’s ‘Manna Kitchen’ Pioneers Plant-Based Dining in the Western Suburbs

Manna Kitchen Lisle

LISLE, IL—The Village of Lisle couldn’t be much farther from the Bavarian countryside. But when Markus Schramm first visited the DuPage County suburb—as a tourist in 1992 and as an intern the following year—he felt right at home.

“I grew up on the outskirts of the Alps,” Markus says. “When I first visited Lisle, I was struck by how natural the surroundings are, with so many forest preserves. I also like the small-town feel. You really have a personal connection with your neighbors.

“I know this sounds strange, because I came from a completely different country, but Lisle immediately felt like home.”

Today, the Schramm family owns and operates two businesses in Lisle: Manna Organics and Manna Kitchen. In 2008, Markus and his wife, Shanti, founded Manna Organics, their first business, after purchasing a bread-baking division from a Canadian company. They moved the commercial bakery to Lisle, where they continue to operate today. The business remains small, with eight employees, but Manna Organics distributes to Whole Foods and various independent stores and co-ops nationwide.

manna kitchen

In 2019, the Schramms opened a restaurant across the street from their Lisle bakery. Manna Kitchen—“Manna” is an ancient hermetic word meaning “from above”—is something of a pioneer. While Chicago has been home to plant-based restaurants for years, Manna Kitchen is the first diner in the western suburbs to exclusively serve vegan food.

That’s not to say that plant-based foods haven’t had a presence in the burbs. In fact, for more than a decade, Lisle itself has been home to Veggie Fest, an annual festival that draws tens of thousands of visitors to celebrate all things vegetable. For years, Manna Organics was a vendor at Veggie Fest. It was there that Markus and Shanti were inspired to go into the restaurant business.

“Everyone who lived in the area was telling us: We need a vegan or vegetarian restaurant out here,” Markus says. “But nobody would do it. I asked the owners of a few places in downtown Chicago, like the Chicago Diner and the Veggie Grill, but no one was interested in coming to the suburbs.”


Markus, who is vegetarian, and Shanti, a fifth-generation vegan, were themselves frustrated with the lack of plant-based dining in the suburbs. Sure, a few restaurants were serving Beyond Burgers, and some of the markets were carrying plant-based options. But, if the couple wanted a restaurant that exclusively catered to their diet, they had to drive to the city.

As Markus and Shanti began talking to people at Veggie Fest and consulting with their neighbors, they began to suspect that there was a growing demand for plant-based dining in DuPage County. In the past, many restauranteurs assumed there wasn’t enough interest in the suburbs to support a vegan diner. But the Schramms suspected that DuPage was on the verge of a plant-based renaissance.

When their kids went off to college, the Schramms got to work, creating the kind of restaurant where they would love to dine. Manna Kitchen opened November 5th, 2019.

Just in time for the pandemic.

Manna Kitchen Lisle

A Pioneer in a Pandemic

For the first few months after opening their doors, things went pretty smoothly for Manna Kitchen. As the Schramms predicted, DuPage indeed had a craving for plant-based protein. Despite limited marketing, Manna Kitchen quickly cultivated a loyal customer base, and their dining rooms began to fill.

And then, in March, the Governor ordered a statewide shutdown of all indoor dining—among other things—in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Within the first month, the Kitchen’s business dropped by 83 percent.

Under government orders, delivery and takeout were still permitted. At first, the Schramms attempted to deliver their own food. That didn’t work out. “We quickly learned that’s not our core competency,” Markus says. Later, the family signed up for third-party delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash, and orders began flowing in. As the pandemic dragged on, a small but loyal customer base rallied around the business.

“We had people who would normally visit every other week; they were suddenly here two, three times a week, getting takeout and buying gift cards. That really helped.”

Thanks to a loyal customer base, smart decisions and the steady income from their commercial bakery, the Schramm family has kept Manna Kitchen afloat. Markus, whom we interviewed during Illinois’ second shutdown, in the early winter, says they were more-prepared for the second round—as prepared as any business can be.

Food Business Lisle

Food and the Future

Markus is German-American, but the meals at Manna Kitchen are inspired by comfort-food traditions from across the globe. Here, you’ll find Mongolian stir-fry, southern soul food, crispy crab cakes, spicy tacos, Greek salads, chorizo burritos—and, of course, a Schnitzel platter, served with German potato salad. Every bite of every dish is 100% vegan.

While the menu will obviously appeal to vegans and vegetarians, Markus says that it’s also for those of us who merely dabble in meatless dining. Maybe you’ve been reading about the environmental impact of meat production, or you just watched a documentary on animal welfare, or you’re simply feeling veggie-curious. Schramm says the restaurant’s menu appeals to taste buds of all varieties—even if you’re just looking for a good burger.

“We’re not here to change your lifestyle,” he says. “We’re just offering good food.”

While Markus’ is the first plant-based restaurant in the western suburbs, he suspects that it won’t be the last. He hopes that his own business will grow—enough that he can open one or two more locations—as he predicts that the market for plant-based foods is poised to skyrocket. If his predictions come true, Markus says that dozens of plant-based restaurants will open in the suburbs.

Today, Manna Kitchen is the only plant-based restaurant in the western suburbs, but it isn’t the only plant-based business. Just a few minutes away—also in Lisle—Greenleaf foods produces some of the nation’s leading plant-based brands, such as Lightlife® and Field Roast. (Their innovation center is in Lisle. Their headquarters is in nearby Elmhurst, also in DuPage.)

Manna Kitchen and Greenleaf foods represent the two sides of Lisle’s growth. On one end, small businesses like Manna are drawn to the Village’s small-town charm, natural beauty, excellent schools and welcoming community. Meanwhile, larger businesses and corporations are primarily attracted to Lisle’s strategic location.

Real Estate Lisle

“Our innovation center in Lisle is centrally located near our corporate office and O’Hare, making it convenient for our customers and associates to visit,” says Dan Curtin, President of Greenleaf Foods.

“I see Lisle as the hidden gem of the western suburbs, with its direct access off 355, as well as the Train Overpass reducing congestion in the downtown and allowing for higher traffic flow,” says Rob Salerno, the restauranteur responsible for Chicagoland’s Evviva! Bar & Eatery and R. Urban Wine Bar & Café restaurants. “With proper planning and execution, Lisle has great opportunities for developers, businesses and residents.”

“On behalf of our community, I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings,” says Lisle Mayor Christopher Pecak. “I see a bright future as we honor the past, build on what we’ve learned, and make space for new ideas and opportunities.”

What does the future have in store for Lisle, Manna Kitchen and the Schramm family? No one really knows. But it is worth noting that this small, brand-new business has managed to survive a pandemic and an economic shutdown, largely thanks to the support of the community. A good sign of things to come? Perhaps.

While Markus can’t see the future any more than the rest of us, he says that we all have a part to play.

“As the human family, I think we have an obligation not only to look after ourselves or those in our immediate family. Instead, look a little further out there. Look to your neighbors and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you?’ If each of us does this on a small scale, that kindness will carry forward, and I think we’ll all be better off.”

Watch the interview with Markus Schramm below.

Lisle is a community in DuPage County, Illinois. Like Lisle, communities across DuPage have rallied to support local businesses, protect the health of residents and visitors, and even use science to fight back against COVID-19.

Learn more at

In Elmhurst, community rallies to support local businesses, and businesses rally to support community

Kie&Kate Elmhurst

Since she founded her boutique in 2008, Kate Kemph, owner of Kie&Kate Couture in Elmhurst, has understood that her business is part of an ecosystem. The community supports her business; her business supports the community; and, like any ecosystem, the strength of one depends on the strength of all.

In 2020, the ecosystem was put to the test. Elmhurst, like every community, has faced the economic impact and human devastation of the pandemic. But Elmhurst has proven to be resilient, thanks to the creativity of local leaders and the powerful bond between residents and local businesses. Now, the community is showing signs of growth and healing.

Today, we’re taking a look at Elmhurst through the eyes of Kate, a local business leader, to see how her boutique has emerged from a tough year stronger than ever—and how she’s giving back.

While sales were slow at the beginning of the pandemic, Kate’s boutique—which offers clothing, health products and more—pivoted quickly, and that made all the difference. Within the first weeks of the shutdown, Kie&Kate began offering a new product, weekly ‘Friday Feel Good’ packages filled with items hand-picked from the store. It was the first of many innovations to come.

As Kate says, “People went crazy for them.”

In addition to new marketing initiatives, like Feel Good Fridays, Kie&Kate launched a new online ecommerce platform. At a time when Amazon was only shipping essentials and big-box retailers like Nordstrom were 3-4 weeks delayed, Kie&Kate’s new platform enabled them to offer curbside pickup, delivery and shipping within 48 hours or less. Meanwhile, the boutique added new products to their inventory that appealed to customers in 2020: work-from-home clothing, loungewear, spa-at-home products and masks.

Even before the pandemic, Kate says that her boutique had a loyal customer base. But, by doubling down her efforts on social media, she was able to engage that base like never before and grow it.

“I was personally forced to step outside my comfort zone and get in front of my customers on social media,” says Kate, who found that providing helpful content to her customer base ultimately drove sales and built loyalty. “Offering stories, advice, recipes and virtual shopping hours turned out to be helpful and warmly received.”

The quick-thinking and hard work paid off, and Kie&Kate is having their biggest year yet. Sales are up, and—thanks to their online platform and social media content—Kate says that sales during Mother’s Day week were as high as they usually are at the height of the holiday season.

Kie&Kate was far from the only Elmhurst business to pivot during COVID-19. Numerous local shops created ecommerce options and expanded their social media presence. Local restaurants altered their menus and offered new ways for their customers to safely get their food, like walk-up service windows, delivery services and interesting at-home options. (For example, one local business offered an at-home crepe kit that proved to be a hit.)

And while these businesses were forced to pivot and think creatively, Kate says that they couldn’t have been successful without the support of the surrounding community.

“The entire town rallied around my business during COVID,” she says. Local residents showed their support by placing orders, sharing posts on social media, and tuning into Kie&Kate’s weekly Instagram Live stream.

Local businesses, organizations and officials lent a hand. For example, the District 205 Foundation partnered with various small-business owners—with Jennifer Blanchette from Maxine’s Boutique taking point—to organize a Boutique Crawl, a fundraiser that brought the community together.

“The City of Elmhurst was also very supportive of our business and continues to be helpful and responsive,” Kate says. “Erin Jason (the Business-Development Coordinator for the City of Elmhurst) called me at the beginning of the shutdown to offer advice, support, and give me a lay of the land. I was very clear on what we were allowed to do, and that made it easier to bring in additional staff to help with my business.”

The City of Elmhurst has supported local businesses throughout the pandemic—often in surprising ways. For example, the City has allowed restaurants to expand outdoor dining on public and private property, established dedicated curbside pick-up locations, and expanded the liquor licenses of some businesses to accommodate for outdoor seating. City officials have also allowed City-owned property to be used for outdoor fitness classes and have worked with individual businesses to find new opportunities.

And while the community has rallied to support local businesses like Kie&Kate, these businesses have, in turn, given back to the community. Several restaurants have fed frontline workers; banks have helped hundreds of Elmhurst businesses secure CAREs Act Funding; and, when possible, numerous business owners have donated to recovery efforts.

Throughout the pandemic, Kate’s boutique has found creative ways to support teachers, nurses and other frontline workers. A few examples: They donated $1,000 to the Elmhurst District 205 COVID Relief Fund, contributed $350 to the Chicago COVID Response Fund, have given countless yards worth of fabric to people and organizations making masks, and have even created custom care packages.

“I love supporting the community through my business,” Kate says. “There are so many incredible organizations, foundations, causes, fundraisers and clubs in Elmhurst. We live in an active, vibrant town with many talented, professional and creative people.

“I love coming together to impact our community in positive ways.”

While the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn have hit every community hard, Elmhurst seems to be on its way toward a better future. Drive through Elmhurst today, and you’ll see signs of progress: new industrial building popping up, residential projects preparing to welcome new tenants in 2021, “Coming Soon” signs in windows along the downtown main street and throughout the community.

No words can do justice to the challenges our towns and families have faced this year. But communities like Elmhurst show that creative people working together can make it through the most difficult times—and even come out stronger on the other side.

Elmhurst is a community in DuPage County, Illinois. Like Elmhurst, communities across DuPage have rallied to support local businesses, protect the health of residents and visitors, and even use science to fight back against COVID-19.

Learn more at

Why is spending at a local business better for your community?

When someone asks, “What do you love about your community?” many of us begin running through a mental list of local businesses: the boutique where you always do your holiday shopping, the amazing ice cream shop you visit after long bike rides, the pizzeria that delivers what has to be the world’s greatest Neapolitan to your front door every Friday.

Local businesses aren’t just “in” your community—they ARE your community. Those storefronts on main street give your town its unique character, making it a place where you love to live and others love to visit. They also play an outsized role in the local economy, employing your neighbors, sourcing products and services from other local businesses and recirculating the money you spend within the town. 

This year has been especially hard on local businesses, which is why we’re reminding everyone to think carefully about where they spend their money. Every time you make a purchase, you have a choice: You can give money to huge corporations, chain restaurants and online retailers. Or, you can support the independent businesses right here, funding jobs and making a big impact on the local economy. It really is up to you.

Here are a few reasons to go local:

The money you spend in your community STAYS in your community.

When you buy an album from the indy vinyl shop down the street—rather than ordering it online—the owner of that shop uses your money to cover operating costs, like utilities, equipment and payroll for employees. Then, the dollars they spent begin to recirculate within the community. The money you spent on that album flows from one local business to the next, funding jobs and stimulating the economy.

Of course, this happens when you spend your money at a chain retailer, too—but not nearly to the same extent. When it comes to the local economy, independent retailers return more than 3X as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors.

You can see the same trend in your favorite local pizza shop, too. Locally owned independent restaurants return 2X as much to the local economy compared to chain restaurants.

Going local is better for the environment.

This is one of the less obvious perks, but it makes a lot of sense. When you buy a sweatshirt from that local boutique, you conserve the fuel and packaging that would otherwise be consumed if you had ordered from an online retailer. Another reason to feel good about going local!

Local businesses donate to local causes.

Local businesses donate to causes within your community at more than twice the rate of chains! We mentioned above that this has been a hard year for small businesses, and the same is true for nonprofits—shelters, food banks, clinics, etc. Keep them in mind when you’re considering where to spend your money.

Local businesses create local jobs.

This one’s pretty simple: Local independent businesses create higher-paying jobs for your neighbors.

And that’s good for everyone—not only those who are employed, but the entire local economy. When your neighbors have higher incomes, they have more spending power, which means that more money will circulate through your community.

Local sales contribute to local sales tax.

No one LIKES paying taxes. But, when you spend locally instead of online, the sales tax revenue from your purchase is reinvested right here in your community.

Local businesses give your community character.   

Imagine a town with only chain restaurants, big-box stores and online retailers. Would you want to visit there? No, probably not. Would you want to live there? No way!

The things we love about our communities are the things that make them unique: the people, the culture and the character of the place that is just a little bit different—or maybe a LOT different—than any other town on the planet.

But we can’t take that uniqueness for granted. To preserve the distinct character of our communities, we need to choose carefully where we spend our money and what businesses we support.

With that said, we’ll leave you with a simple call to action: If you love the people and culture of your community, show it by supporting local businesses.

This year, support your community by shopping at small retailers, ordering food from independent restaurants, staying at local hotels and visiting nearby attractions. Share this post using #CelebrateLocal to remind your friends to support local businesses.

Small Business Saturday is Nov. 28th. Here’s why this is the biggest one ever.

Small Business Saturday DuPage County

Want to make a big impact on your community?

Start small.

In 2010, that idea inspired American Express to create Small Business Saturday, a holiday that encourages people to spend their money at independently owned local businesses: shops, restaurants, hotels, attractions and more. The event started small—relatively speaking—but the public response was so enthusiastic that it quickly grew.

In 2011, local officials across the nation caught wind of Small Business Saturday and began to promote it. That same year, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of the day, and communities participated in all 50 states.

Over the next decade, the holiday continued to attract more attention from consumers and businesses across the nation. In 2019, the 10th Annual Small Business Saturday hit a record high, as 110 million shoppers spent an estimated $19.6 billion at corner stores, mom ‘n’ pop shops and independent diners. It was a big day for small biz.

Small Business Saturday DuPage

It probably goes without saying that, this year, small businesses need your support more than ever. Shops, restaurants, hotels, attractions—all of them have had a tough year due to COVID-19, and you can support them by shopping for holiday gifts at local stores, ordering takeout from your favorite local restaurants, planning a staycation at a local hotel, and exploring all the fun places in your town.

But here’s the thing: When you spend money at a small business, you’re not only supporting the owner and employees of the business—you’re making an impact on the entire community. For every dollar spent at a small business, about 67 cents STAYS in the local community.

And that’s a big deal for everyone.

How are you planning to support small businesses in DuPage County? Let us know on social media using #CelebrateLocal

CityGate Hospitality Restaurant Brands Launch Community Giving Program

Press Release

NAPERVILLE, IL (May 11, 2020) – CityGate Grille, Che Figata and Tap In Pub, in conjunction with the John P Calamos Foundation, today launched an effort to raise funds for five local nonprofits by adding a donation option to their online menus. 

The John P Calamos Foundation pledged donations ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 each for the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry, Naperville Education Foundation, Indian Prairie Educational Foundation, Career & Networking Center, and Naperville’s community television station, NCTV-17. Individuals ordering online from the three CityGate Hospitality restaurant brands can add to the funds in $5 increments when placing online carryout orders.

“We selected these organizations as they are cornerstones of the community and have either suffered loss of projected funds or increased demand for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CityGate Hospitality SVP and Chief Operating Officer Mae Calamos. “Recognizing that members of the community also want to offer support, we’ve added the donation option to our contact-free online transactions.”

According to the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry website, every $10 donated equals $70 of food. The organization currently is feeding 5,000 people per week. 

Naperville Education Foundation is providing crisis services directly to more than 80 at-risk District 203 students and their families impacted by COVID-19. 

“The thought of being able to continue to provide immediate support to our most vulnerable Naperville 203 families is so heartwarming,” said Naperville Education Foundation Executive Director Wendy L Goettsch. “The bonus of the online give-back program is icing on the cake!”

Typically serving 5,000 District 204 students with free and reduced lunch, the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation now is providing meals to an additional 70 COVID-19 affected families.

“We are so incredibly grateful for the tremendous generosity towards our students and families in need,” said Community Relations Coordinator Lisa Schwarz-Barry. “This donation will make a significant impact on our families in crisis.”

Career & Networking Center, formerly Community Career Center, is facing increased demand for its services as more members of the community face uncertainty in their employment due to COVID-19.

“This is life-changing for the Center,” said Executive Director Kimberly White. “It will have a real impact on people’s lives in our community.”

NCTV-17 has continued fulfilling its mission to bring a uniquely local perspective to the news and keeping its community informed while suffering a significant loss of revenue from its coverage of sports and events canceled due to the pandemic.

“As a community television station, NCTV17 plays a vital role in keeping Naperville residents informed and connected with timely, accurate and local news about what’s happening in their hometown,” said the station’s Executive Director Elizabeth Braham Spencer. “In these unprecedented times, local news really matters and NCTV17 is there to deliver it on a daily basis.

“The NCTV17 Board of Directors and staff would like to thank the John P Calamos Foundation for their generous donation to help us continue to deliver our important mission of telling local stories on air and online,” Spencer added.

In addition to the donation and fundraising effort, some CityGate Hospitality Associates facing reduced work hours are volunteering with Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry in an effort led by Che Figata Sous Chef Tom Marquez.

To contribute to these organizations through the CityGate Hospitality effort, community members can visit for online ordering at CityGate Grille, Che Figata and Tap In Pub, where they can select any one or all of the organizations and donate in increments of $5 added to their food and beverage order.

CityGate Hospitality LLC manages Hotel Arista, CityGate Grille, Che Figata, Tap In Pub, Lavazza Naperville, Zorba Cocktail Bar, Arista Spa & Salon and Olympus Executive Fitness Center, all located on the CITYGATE campus at Rte. 59 and Ferry Rd., alongside I-88, in Naperville.