Tis’ the season of giving and we wanted to take this opportunity to start sharing some stories from our incredible customers who give back to their communities!
One such inspiring tale comes from Inga Arvin, who, alongside her husband Shawn Arvin, founded Love City eight years ago this month. Their journey began with a leap of faith, moving from the other side of town to the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, KY without a grand plan or any idea what they would eventually build for the community there. We had the privilege of sitting down with Inga to delve into the incredible story of Love City. Below we’ll explore its evolution from open gym to a flourishing community hub, and how the connection of dining together helped build deeper relationships to connect a community.
Will you just give me a little bit of an idea of how Love City came to be?
Inga: My husband, Shawn, and I started Love City, eight years ago this month.
We lived on the other side of town and we felt a calling to move down to Portland. We came down here with no agenda, no grand plan, and we had no idea that we would be opening a nonprofit or doing any of this. We just felt like we wanted to move into the neighborhood and be a part of the community.
We found a house that had been boarded up for about 30 years, and when we approached the owner about buying it, he said he would give it to us if we purchased the old Community Center next door. We took the leap without a plan on what we would do with the Community Center.
While we were renovating the house, we saw so many kids walking down the street, bouncing basketballs with not a lot of places to go and play. We had a huge basketball gym in the community building just sitting empty, so we thought, well, let’s just have open gym. We started opening the gym for the community and very quickly, had 100-300 kids a day coming to the open gym. At that point we realized we should form a nonprofit, get some insurance, and raise some money to pay the light bill. So that’s what we did!
And you started raising money next?
Inga: We started a fish fry out of the back cafe area to raise money to pay the light bill. We started getting to know the people in the community and building relationships and really listening to see what it was that the community wanted and needed. Through the course of the next few months, we developed the mission statement of Love City, which is to simply love our neighbors and community, creating a culture that empowers a movement of loving people as they are. We started having large events, just to build trust and listen to more neighbors.
From a basketball open gym into food service! How else did you incorporate dining into the area?
Inga: About a year and a half into it, we were approached by the Archdiocese who asked if we wanted to buy an old Catholic campus just a block away from our original building. This gave us access to a commercial kitchen & bingo hall, so we moved the fish fry over there.
One of Love City’s pillars is economic stimulation and we saw the opportunity to bring a sit-down restaurant to the community. We wanted to hire people from the neighborhood and give the community a place where they can gather for food. And so that’s what we did when we opened Porkland BBQ. That’s when we started our relationship with What Chefs Want. And you all were gracious enough to partner with us as we got started and we still work with you to this day!
I feel like there’s a connection between food and bringing the community together in your story. Is that something you started out trying to do? Or is that something that you just found along the way?
Inga: Definitely something we found along the way. When we started the fish fry in the back of the Community Center building, we were doing it because we needed to raise money to pay the lighting bill, which was more than the mortgage at that point. But what we saw more and more, is that people would reconnect with neighbors and community members while waiting in line.
The community had disintegrated a bit over the years. People would go to their homes, shut the doors, stay safe, but this gave them the opportunity to get back out in the community, get food and run into five neighbors they didn’t know still lived in the neighborhood. And so now, this has grown into Porkland BBQ, and we’re still open every Friday, and now we have the barbecue added as well as fish.
Food is a great equalizer and a great draw.
There is a community that is reconnecting. And then there’s the community of regulars that come every Friday without fail, that have become sort of like a community within a community themselves. We know them, they know us and we check on them if they’re not here. It has created multiple levels and layers of community and I love that.
And taking community and food to another level, you have a community garden. How did that get started?
Inga: We were able to purchase that vacant lot right across the street from the community building. We were out there, making some raised beds, mowing, and cultivating it, when a man from the USDA Urban Agriculture Program approached us. He helped us with a grant, walked us through the process, and we now have two coded USDA urban farms with high tunnels and rainwater collection systems.
What do you see in the future for Love City?
Inga: The community sort of dictates what it needs and what it wants.
For example, we never thought we would start a school, right? But here we are with Might Oak Academy, a K-8 school in the community center building that we had originally purchased. We are also set to reopen the preschool on an even larger scale, relocating it to another property down the street that we acquired in 2019.
In the beginning of Love City, it was more relationship-building and now we’re in the stage where we are more in the work. We are deeper into relationships with the families that we have because of the school, so that’s the next phase, developing communities and going deeper with those folks to see where we can make a difference for them and the community.
So you never know what might happen. Right?
If you are a What Chefs Want customer and have a restaurant that gives back to the community in a significant way and want to be featured, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to tell your story and share your good work in the communities you serve!