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One80 Place trains homeless residents for restaurant work

One80 Place trains homeless residents for restaurant work

 

Check out One80 Place as the lead story in the Food section of the Post and Courier, Nov. 19, 2014. “One80 Place trains homeless residents for restaurant work,” written by Hanna Raskin, details our culinary training program and our efforts to help our homeless guests find meaningful employment.

See pictures and the read the full article online: http://bit.ly/1t4HLFx.

One80 Place trains homeless residents for restaurant work
By: Hanna Raskin

Labrone Grippon’s grandparents made their living in the kitchen. As owners of Sanders Grill at Columbus and Nassau streets, they did a steady business in collard greens, cabbage, lima beans and stewed chicken. Now Grippon, 57, is training to follow the career path of the relatives who raised him.

“You ever had Jell-O?,” One80 Place’s kitchen manager, Maddie Storts, asks Grippon before showing him how to make panna cotta for a ritzy affair celebrating the opening of the new homeless shelter where Grippon and his five classmates are current residents.

“Yeah, but I don’t know what it’s made of,” he says.

Over the course of a six-week program, One80 Place staff will cover kitchen lingo, knife techniques, flavor balancing, spice identification, recipe scaling and the history of Lowcountry cuisine, among other topics. They’ll coach their students through making coq au vin for the women’s shelter, and demonstrate how eggs can be fried, poached or stirred into hollandaise.

While panna cotta preparation would typically be reserved for a later session, the obligations associated with a brand-new building have sped up the whirlwind that organizers hope will thrust chronically unemployed men and women into the restaurant industry.

As for Grippon, who’s worked construction and banquet service, he’s not yet sold on a kitchen job.

“I mean, it all depends,” he says. “I don’t want to say yeah, and I don’t want to say no.”

Fresh from the kitchen
One80 Place’s program isn’t unique: There are dozens of similar kitchen-based initiatives across the country, ranging from modest Culinary 101-type classes to full-fledged restaurants serving the public. But it’s especially appropriate for Charleston, where severe understaffing threatens to upend the local food-and-beverage economy.

The lurking downer is that the efficacy of such programs remains remarkably unclear. Scholars have scrutinized the causes of homelessness and the demographics of the U.S. homeless population, but whether job training leads to long-term employment remains largely unexplored. Even Catalyst Kitchens, a national network of organizations that “transform lives through foodservice job training and social enterprise,” couldn’t muster any evidence showing kitchen-centered training results in better outcomes than other interventions.

“We’re all sort of finding our way,” says Angela DuPree, One80 Place’s director of operations.

In certain regards, restaurants seem like an awkward fit for workers who may struggle with substance abuse or mental illness, since those conditions can sometimes be aggravated by peer acceptance of drugs and alcohol, perpetual stress and unpredictable hours. What’s appealing about restaurants, though, is the constant availability of entry-level jobs.

“You’re not always treated nicely, and it’s a top-down environment,” Michael Stoops, the National Coalition for the Homeless’ director of community organizing says of commercial kitchens. “But in terms of number of jobs available, the only other growth industry is security, and it’s hard to get a security guard job with a criminal record.”

Placement a challenge
Culinary job training for homeless men and women emerged in the late 1980s, a decade during which the homeless population ballooned.

“In the 1980s, we thought just giving people shelter and food would break the cycle of homelessness,” says Stoops, whose activism dates back to the 1970s. “We finally realized it wouldn’t.”

In 1988, Seattle’s David Lee opened Common Meals, with the goal of serving “nutritious and culturally appropriate food” to people at risk of going hungry. Within a few years, he adopted a “teach a man to fish philosophy,” remaking his organization as a nonprofit. FareStart now serves 800 individuals a year, placing 90 percent of its graduates in living-wage restaurant jobs.

Across the country, Robert Egger in 1989 launched DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) by delivering leftovers from George H.W. Bush’s inauguration to Washington, D.C., shelters. Like FareStart, DCCK reports 90 percent of its participants find jobs within three months of graduation.

DuPree says she’s looking forward to partnering with local restaurants so she can ensure that graduates leave the program with more than a chef’s coat and a monogrammed bag. “When the class ends, if I don’t have somewhere to place them, it’s back to the grind of life,” she says.

Three graduates of the program’s first session, held in late 2013, are now working in food service. But DuPree says she’s remains more confident about finding positions for clients who shadow the shelter’s housekeeper: The local hotel boom has created a wealth of room-cleaning jobs.

“It’s a little bit harder to get in restaurants,” she says. “But we’re trying to get started.”

Life skills that count
“My intent is to make them so they’re not green, so they’re not oblivious when they walk in a kitchen,” DuPree says of the One80 Place curriculum. “As far as walking into a downtown restaurant, if you know the concept of farm-to-table, it’s not going to hurt you.”

To that end, Storts has begun teaching trainees how to pickle the produce that’s donated to One80 Place. “Some of them get kind of into that, and some of them are detached,” DuPree confesses. Because the shelter is fully dependent on donations, lesson plans are sometimes tweaked to accommodate what’s in the cooler.

Whether dealing with artichokes or squash, trainees still have to master critical life skills. In addition to establishing sobriety and their mental readiness for the program, participants are required to show up for class, comply with their treatment regimens and maintain a positive attitude.

The logistics of cooking also contributes to trainees’ numerical literacy skills: On panna cotta day, Storts reviewed the difference between three cups and three quarts in the context of portioning out milk. “Let’s add a bit more sugar,” she suggested, sizing up another trainee’s measuring cup.

Trainee Bobby Papion, 63, long ago learned the basics of cooking. “I got a whupping every time I burnt the food,” says Papion, a Louisiana native who as a boy was tasked with preparing meals for his family of 13. He’s since worked for a string of casinos, including a stint on the saute station at Lake Charles’ Isle of Capri. Now he’s enrolled in a veterans’ program to earn a culinary degree; he starts at Trident Tech in January.

“I got the energy,” he says. “Idle time is dangerous.”