Photo courtesy of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh

One of the top things on a Pittsburgh restaurateur’s wish list is a good pipeline of kitchen talent. With our food industry experiencing its much-documented growth, the demand for food service professionals is on the rise.

Since 2013, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh (CKP) has been providing on-the-job training in the food service industry to individuals who have been out of the workforce. Through a culinary program, CKP’s goal has been to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to maintain a stable, higher than entry level position in the food service industry.

Last week, CKP opened CK 9th St. Café in the South Side, a restaurant that will provide the real-life, practical training ground for individuals who have completed CKP’s curriculum. The café not only serves great food but it serves as transitional employment spot for CKP’s graduates. And it forms one of the nonprofit’s revenue sources in its social enterprise model.

Photo courtesy of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh.
Photo courtesy of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh.

A few months of soft opening has allowed them to fine-tune operations. “We learned that a focused menu works well—our best sellers have been the corned beef Reuben and the Tuscan chicken on brioche,” says Tod Schoenberger, co-executive director and operations lead. “And people love our daily specials.”

Jennifer Flanagan, co-executive director and programming lead, adds that the training and the real-life experience have proven to be effective. “The transitional employment piece is new for us this year, made possible with support from United Way of Allegheny County, and it’s going well. Our employer partners (those hiring our graduates) really like the exposure our clients get with front of the house experience and a la carte service. All of our clients who have completed internships are working now, in above minimum wage jobs around the city.”

CKP’s café internships are eight weeks long and, according to Flanagan, the café employs eight interns at any given time. “Depending on each graduating class size, annually, we will be able to provide 16 -20 graduates with transitional employment opportunities at the cafe.”

9th St. Café is not the only revenue source in CKP’s social enterprise model. CK Good. To Go. is a retail line of prepared food that is produced at the café and distributed to local businesses like Crazy Mocha, Bantha Tea House, Big Idea Bookstore, the Warhol Museum and Commonplace Coffee.

The revenue generated from the café and CK Good. To Go supports CKP’s training program. “The café itself provides us with a great platform for preparing our transitional employees for a variety of jobs,” says Flanagan. “And we get to serve our customers good, simple, fresh food.”

CK 9th Street Cafe is located at 330 9th Street in the South Side and open for lunch Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.