“People who come as refugees have great skills,” says Marc Schulman, the president of Eli’s Cheesecake, which has sold cheesecakes and other baked desserts since 1980. One-third of adult refugees arriving in the U.S. have college degrees, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, a think tank that tracks the movement of people worldwide. And refugee employment is a successful model for finding skilled workers for a food business that has become high tech, says Schulman.
A cheesecake at Eli’s is still based on the simple recipe of the founder, the late Eli Schulman, Schulman’s father, who served his famous confections to political leaders and Hollywood stars. Marc Schulman wears the Cartier watch that Frank Sinatra — a regular customer — sent his father in 1987. This Chicago food factory now produces 300,000 portions of cheesecake a day, in addition to tarts and cookies for restaurants, airlines and grocery freezers. “The line has certainly evolved over time,” says Schulman.
The mixing and baking are computerized, so the 220 employees have to be highly skilled. Schulman recruits about 15 percent of the workforce from refugees resettled in Chicago. The employee list reflects the waves of flight from war-torn countries — Iraq, Bhutan, Kosovo, Congo, Myanmar.
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