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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

For Good

Community Kitchen to teach food-service to job seekers having the toughest time

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Pittsburgh Community Kitchen has been quietly working since July to create a catering business that provides food-service training to people who often have the toughest time getting a job: those reentering society from jail, people who have experienced recent homelessness, and individuals recovering from drug and alcohol abuse or who have experienced behavioral health issues.
"And it's often more than one" issue that their clients are getting past, says Jennifer Flanagan, who founded the Kitchen along with Tod Shoenberger, an executive chef with 20 years of operational experience in the food industry. “Food service is a really forgiving industry,” Flanagan says, “if you are responsible and have some skills,” and the Kitchen will offer "more than job readiness – industry-specific training."
Flanagan works for Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services, where she co-directs a Department of Justice-funded program offering workforce development for former inmates, so she has important experience creating such a program. And there are 42 other community kitchens with similar missions in the national Catalyst Kitchens Network, which originated in Seattle.
The Kitchen has already undertaken catering jobs for nearly half a year. "You can't really train people if you're not running the business well," she says. The free program uses chefs as teachers and also offers clientele access to case managers to provide extra support and make referrals to social-service agencies. "Our goal is to get them through the their barriers and stabilized" in life, she explains.
To accompany the training experience, which begins with the new year, the Kitchen already has a shared-use commercial kitchen in Pittsburgh Public Market’s recently opened Penn Avenue location. There, they’ll also train participants in co-packing: working with smaller food producers to produce their products and/or pack them for sale.
In addition, the Kitchen is planning a restaurant – at a location to be determined – that will “make the restaurant experience available to folks who couldn't necessarily support it,” Flanagan says. They’re also expecting to put a 10,000-square-foot commissary kitchen, using green technology, in the Energy Innovation Center opening in the Hill District in late 2014.
”We're looking to do other things to support whatever communities we go into," she adds, such as making meals from the 30,000 pounds of end-of-shelf-life produce tossed by food banks every month.
Concludes Flanagan: "I'm excited to start the training in January, and see where it takes us."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Flanagan, Pittsburgh Community Kitchen
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