The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Judith Goldstein

How social enterprise hospitality programs can help with restaurant staffing

In a recent post we discussed the wide restaurant epidemic known as the great chef shortage. This issue prevalent across the United States is due to growing opportunities for cooks outside the traditional restaurant kitchen, driving down interest from new hires, and leaving chefs to look for alternative sources for new employees. Of those solutions, hiring from social enterprise culinary programs is one of the most promising, as it is a way to hire talented individuals, while positively impacting the community. We had a chance to speak to two of the most successful social enterprise culinary programs, The Golden Gate Restaurant Foundation in San Francisco and the St. Joseph’s Culinary training program in Los Angeles. Through them we got insights to how to make these programs work, why this is an ideal solution for restaurants and how the industry can become involved to mobilize social change.

What are social enterprise culinary programs?

Social enterprise hospitality programs are subsidized programs that give at youth risk and vulnerable populations an opportunity to receive culinary or front of the house training , giving the tools and experience to apply to kitchen and service jobs in the hospitality sector. In some cases, these programs offer in house culinary programs and in other cases, students receive scholarships to pursue culinary training. Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation is an example of an organization that provides scholarships for students to receive hospitality training. Founded in 1668, the GGRA was created in honor of David Rubenstein, the General Council of the GGRA from 1936-1968. The focus of the foundation is to provide need based scholarships to at risk youth and those coming from challenging backgrounds.

St. Joseph’s Culinary Training program (CTP), on the other hand, is an house 10 week culinary training program that offers 6 weeks of French technique culinary training and a 4 week externship. CTP developed through St. Josephs free meal service cafe, Bread & Roses. After the cafe organizers realized that clients who were getting back on their feet were interested in working in the kitchen, they developed the CTP in 1991, to provide a place where they could get the proper training and opportunities

Why is the culinary industry ideal for vulnerable populations?

Both Donnalyn Murphy, the Secretary and Trustee of the GGRA Scholarship Foundation program and Natalie Romero, Program Manager for the Culinary Training Program at St. Joshep’s agree that the culinary industry is a great equalizer. As Murphy explains, “The culinary industry is a path for everyone, meaning, even if you have a four year degree from a for profit college, you’ll still need to start on the line or prep just like someone who comes from out of the country for instance or from previous incarceration, to prove yourself and earn your spot.” As Romero further explains, “an expensive culinary school doesn’t necessarily guarantee the the ability to successfully withstand the demands of the kitchen.” This unique feature of the culinary world is what sets the industry apart from many others, your success in this field is only about hard work, talent, focus, dedication and drive, without the traditional barriers of age, education level, family background, the culinary and hospitality arts is a field that anyone with enough passion and dedication can thrive in.

How are these organizations funded?

Culinary social enterprise organizations can be funded in several ways. Of those federal, state and local government grants are one avenue for funding. The GGRA Scholarship program uses a percentage of the membership fees from local restaurants to fund their program, however the majority of funding for any social enterprise program comes from private donors. Many of these programs also rely on charity events to raise money to keep these programs going.

How have these programs helped the industry?

Not only have these programs offered restaurants and food related businesses a bigger pool of candidates to chose from, but they have also helped to create new jobs and shape the recipients future. In the GGRA scholarship foundation, for example, one of the former scholarship recipients, Martin DiGrande, is now the owner of Palio d’Asti restaurant in San Francisco and a member of the trustee board. Another scholarship recipient, Jennifer Rudd, not only runs her own catering business, however she is a teacher at the Culinary and Hospitality Studies program at City College of SF. St. Joseph’s Culinary program has also seen a host of program attendees move on to careers in some of Los Angeles’  best restaurants, careers in hospitals and hotels, and catering companies. Restaurants that hire predominantly through social enterprise programs, such as Cala in San Francisco, see a much lower turnover rate, which is a major incentive for the industry.

How can restaurants help?

The best way restaurants can cooperate in these programs, is by providing externship and job opportunities to graduates of these programs. Although monetary aid is helpful and chefs donating their time to teach is a powerful tool as well, Romero explains, “Giving someone a chance who is accustomed to being overlooked is such a powerful thing. Through the unpaid externship program I see students work really hard to earn the confidence they have been given. Even if it’s just the experience of working in a restaurant, it creates a new confidence.” By participating in an externship program, restaurants are able to give people a second chance, an opportunity to prove themselves and a door into an industry that participants are passionate to be a part of.

If restaurants have any reservations about opening their doors to externs from these types of programs, they should look at the stellar statistics of the participants. When GGRA partnered with SF City CollegeCulinary & Hospitality Studies to create a two week Front of House Boot Camp, of the 22 graduates of the program, 16 are still working in the industry. These and other successful programs show that turnover rates from program recruiting are quite low, making it a sound and safe investment on the part of restaurants.