PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - A restaurant that just opened in downtown Portland is on a mission to connect people at risk of homelessness with job training and placement in the culinary industry.
The restaurant is called Stone Soup PDX and it opened on the corner of NW Broadway and Everett earlier this month. It offers weekday lunch service, catering, private event space and pop-up dinners.
Executive Director Craig Gerard and his wife came up with the idea together nearly 10 years ago.
“We love food and we love helping people,” he said of the concept.
Now, he’s excited to bring on the first set of program participants in August.
“We don’t really care where they’ve been, we’re more worried about where they want to go,” Gerard said. “If we help one person find a job, that’s a win.”
Participants will be referred to Stone Soup by social service partners like Central City Concern and Transition Projects. They’ll go through a 12-week training in the restaurant, learning a variety of skills under a curriculum developed by a similar program called Fair Start in Seattle.
“They start out learning how to move and work in the kitchen, food safety and hygiene and then after that they move into knife skills and other culinary specialties,” Gerard said.
But that’s not the extent of the training.
“We’re focusing a lot on life skills and interpersonal skills, because that’s really one of the bigger parts of what restaurateurs are looking for,” said Chef Instructor Scott Dolich. “Really, they’re looking for people who are ready to show up, they’re able to work with a team.”
At the end of the program, participants will do a one-week externship with a partner restaurant, hoping it leads to a job.
“Those are places like New Seasons Market, Toro Bravo, Irving Street Kitchen, we’ve got about 12 or 15 kitchens around Portland who have expressed interest in hiring our graduates,” Gerard said.
In a city known for its food – and also, unfortunately, for its homeless crisis – it’s a gap Gerard wants to bridge.
“Kitchens and restaurants are facing a labor shortage right now, so for those restaurants it’s a valuable service that we can provide, while at the same time you have a willing workforce that’s ready to work but they may not have the skills or experience to jump into working in a kitchen,” he said.
Dolich, who has a long background in fine dining and is a former restaurant-owner himself, can attest to that.
“That’s definitely a big issue in the Portland community is getting enough skilled workers to staff their restaurants,” he said. “I know a lot of restauranteurs are really strapped for people.”
The curriculum they’ll be following came from another partner they’re learning from, Fair Start in Seattle, which has been around for nearly 30 years.
Gerard plans to take on three to five participants a month to slowly build the program to the point where he has roughly 12 people on board at any given time, taking on some new people and graduating others every month.
Stone Soup is also a nonprofit, so any money from meals you buy or donations you make go back into the program to pay for things like equipment, ingredients and training.
The namesake comes from the popular children’s book, which tells the story of how everyone has something small to give, and together what we all contribute can make a big difference.
“That’s kind of the ethos of our whole organization,” Gerard said. “Whether it’s our referring partners or our job placement network partners, we’re all just putting a little bit into the soup to make a difference.”
For more, go to https://www.stonesouppdx.com/
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