Contributing Author: Caroline Fox
New Orleans, Louisiana, is home to one of the most original food cultures in the United States. Meanwhile, the city has the largest per-capita population of young people who are not working or enrolled in school—one in five adolescents. Through food service, Father Harry Tompson worked to address the neglect, violence, and poverty in New Orleans that contribute to these disconnected youth. Father Tompson opened Café Reconcile in 1996, which runs a 12-week development program for at-risk youth with culinary, hospitality, employment, and life skill training. The program focuses on improving emotional strength and resilience, allowing participants to work confidently and effectively practice new skill sets in the restaurant. Following graduation, students are presented with the opportunity to interview for a paid internship with Café Reconcile, or they receive assistance to seek employment with one of Reconcile’s employment partners.
But Café Reconcile isn’t the only restaurant working to empower at-risk youth. From Aspen, Colorado to Sydney, Australia, kitchens and organizations across the globe are offering opportunities to change the course of the lives of young people. Food Tank is excited to highlight 23 restaurants worldwide providing supportive work environments and opportunities for young people to pursue successful careers in the food and hospitality industry and beyond.
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, AspenPointe Cafe reinvests all profits into a program that trains disabled, veterans, seniors, and at-risk youth for a career in the culinary arts. The Cafe conducts culinary and barista training and offers career services, education tutoring, and GED training preparation. Students have the opportunity to practice their skills in the 550-seat cafeteria, which serves fresh meals daily.
Café Hope offers a combination of life skills and culinary arts training in their program designed for at-risk youth in the Greater New Orleans area. Established in 2010, Café Hope aims to create opportunities for youth and provide a platform where youth can recognize their capabilities and talents. The program hopes to teach self-sufficiency and motivate youth to become valuable members of their community.
Café Momentum offers a paid, 12-month culinary, job, and life training to at-risk youth who have spent time in juvenile facilities. Based in Dallas, Texas, the program begins by pairing interns with case managers, who help them through their basic needs and begin to establish stability. The mentorship and support aims to allow youth to recognize their full potential, and after the 12-month program, interns are employed with one of Café Momentum’s community partners.
Community Kitchen Pittsburgh offers a 12-week culinary job training course for youth facing barriers to employment. Students graduate with a SafeServ management certification and training in a variety of restaurant and kitchen positions. For those who are currently or formerly incarcerated, there is a separate transitional job opportunity program that helps participants gain a professional reference, a source of income, and the opportunity to work with an employment specialist to help transition to a full-time job elsewhere in the industry. Community Kitchen Pittsburgh also provides meals to schools and other feeding services around the city.
In Evanston, Illinois, Curt’s Café offers a paid training program for at-risk youth aged 15 to 24 who have had difficulty with homelessness, the judicial system, or food insecurity. Trainees are given the opportunity to learn in the restaurant, the classroom, and through the mentorship program. The program emphasizes four disciplines: life skills, intellectual skills, food service skills, and experiential skills. Curt’s Café only trains about four to five students at a time for three months, allowing for individualized and thorough training and development.
Coffee is a common language that brings people together from all backgrounds. In Sydney, Australia, Darcy Street Project aims to offer coffee education to any citizen who has suffered from long-term unemployment. Participants can choose from a variet of barista and coffee brewing training programs. Darcy Street Project also runs a pay-it-forward program, where customers can pay in advance for the next customer and foster a sense of community.
As a high school dropout who spent years in and out of the prison system, Chef Benny Se Tao has experienced stigma first-hand. Now, he visits the prisons in Singapore once a month to recruit at-risk youth to join his program once they are released. He runs Eighteen Chefs, a fast-food restaurant chain throughout Singapore with a program that provides at-risk youth with a platform to recognize their talents while learning about the food and beverage industry. Eighteen Chefs strives to helping youth reintegrate back into society while providing affordable, healthy food for the community.
In 2017, a team of culinary industry professionals in Madrid, Spain, created the nonprofit Gastronomía Solidaria to offer cooking courses and training programs for at-risk or disadvantaged youth. One course lasts three months within the organization, and then participants spend two months practicing in restaurants and bakeries. Since debuting, the organization has an 83-percent success rate in pairing youth with different restaurant and hospitality jobs.
Inspiration Kitchens, founded in 1989 by former police officer Liza Nigro, aims to overcome homelessness and poverty in Chicago, Illinois. Anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to join the 12-week program, where students gain the necessary skills and experience needed for a career in the service industry. Students graduate with a sanitation manager and food handling certification and receive job placement assistance.
Every morning, the group of at-risk youth working on Kaima Organic Farm sit down for a communal breakfast full of freshly harvested fruit and vegetables. Located in Beerotayim, Israel, the farm was started by three Shevah women that partner with authorities in Emek Hefer, Netanya, and Kalansua to send youth who have trouble adjusting to society or are undergoing a crisis. At the farm, the youth gain stability and leadership skills while preserving the local food culture and traditions. Harvested produce is sold to customers in neighboring districts and funds are reinvested into the program.
KOTO—which stands for “know one, teach one”—runs a 40-person, 6-month award-winning training program to transform the lives of at-risk youth in Vietnam. The program has a 100-percent success rate, placing every graduate into a hospitality job. In addition to the two restaurants where trainees can fine-tune their culinary and hospitality skills, KOTO offers English courses and life skill classes with topics including sex education, first aid, financial budgeting, anger management, and personal hygiene. Since KOTO began the program in 1999, 11 graduates have moved on to start their own businesses.
Located three miles from Café Reconcile in New Orleans, the three-month development program at Liberty’s Kitchen aims to train at-risk young adults. Participants gain access to mentorship, develop career, leadership, and workplace training skills, and receive individualized support for personal needs such as housing or child-care support. At the flagship training facility, Broad Street Cafe, students have the opportunity to serve classic New Orleans cuisine five days a week. The program has been so successful that three alumni students have continued on to start their own businesses.
With an emphasis on farm-to-table cuisine, this social enterprise based in Fullerton, California, has a restaurant, catering business, test kitchen, and arboretum. Founded by Bill Hart, Monkey Business Café offers a program to give at-risk and foster youth the opportunity to earn a SafeServ certificate, build their resumes, learn life skills, and get paid. The restaurant is a fully operational experience and job training site, and all proceeds are reinvested back into the operations.
Old Skool Cafe is a youth-run supper club in San Francisco, California. The 12-week program focuses on youth aged 16 to 22, aiming to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty by immersing youth in the restaurant. Students receive leadership and management skill training, and once the program is completed, trainees are paid and encouraged to apply to work in Old Skool Cafe full-time to continue building their skillset.
In early 2019, Australia’s leading food rescue organization is relaunching Nourish, a training and mentoring program for at-risk youth. The program is supported by volunteers, mentors, and qualified trained professionals and designed to be a stepping stone for people interested in the hospitality industry. Each participant is given work experience for future employment, graduating with a Certificate II in hospitality or kitchen operations. OzHarvest has an extensive list of community contacts and donors to connect to Nourish graduates.
Pho is a family-run business serving healthy Vietnamese street food at 26 locations throughout the United Kingdom. Pho believes in socially inclusive recruitment and helps people who are especially struggling to find employment by partnering with local charities. Once hired, the restaurant trains these candidates to be ready and capable to lead a successful career—and several candidates have progressed into managerial roles at different Pho locations.
Executive Chef Esteban Jimenez leads Rancho Cielo’s culinary arts curriculum, a 10-month program where half the time is spent in the kitchen and the other half is devoted to education. Students graduate with both a culinary arts diploma and a high school diploma. Located in Salinas, California, Rancho Cielo has a beautiful dining room open to the public every Friday night, giving students the opportunity to practice their skills and gain real-world experience.
In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, Chef Randy Siles, the ambassador of Costa Rica’s National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy, runs a culinary training program in the Shambala restaurant. Designed for young natives with limited economic opportunities, the program has trained more than 90 students in culinary arts, bartending, and support staff skills.
In Portland, Oregon, this “‘pay as much as you can”’ restaurant runs a 16-week training program for at-risk youth to learn life and culinary skills and gain access to a large job placement network. The Culinary Training Program gives graduates a Food Handler Certification, as well as the opportunity to continue with the 16-hour Dining Room and Table Skills course. Founders Ronit and Craig Gerard both share a love for food and a passion to give back to those in their community.
With four cafes in Melbourne, Australia, STREAT runs a variety of programs for marginalized or socially isolated youth. Students gain work experience in one of the STREAT restaurants, study for and achieve certificates, participate in group activities and team building, and benefit from individual support sessions with a trained mentor. The 10-year goal is to help an at-risk youth every single mealtime by 2022, totaling 1,095 youth per year.
The Sustainable Life Program at Tender Greens is a unique culinary training program and paid, six-month internship for former foster youth. Since 2009, the program has offered youth training through field trips, workshops, and classes. Once completing the program, participants move on to explore a career in the hospitality industry, or they can apply for a job at one of Tender Green’s restaurants across Massachusetts, California, and New York.
Created in 2008 by the Shoreditch Trust charity, the Waterhouse Restaurant in East London, England, is a social enterprise working to provide residents with opportunities to improve health, wellbeing, and social networks. The restaurant is a host of Shoreditch Trust’s Blue Marble Training Program for people between the ages of 16 and 25 in challenging circumstances. The support system gives young people the opportunity to master new skills in the kitchen and develop real expertise so that they can then move on to paid employment and lead rewarding careers.