City Kitchen is a new workforce development program that provides students with life skills such as financial training and conflict resolution, as well as culinary skills. City Kitchen combats unemployment in Cincinnati by training future chefs to fill an ever increasing gap in the food industry. City Kitchen is an 8-week culinary program that operates a pop-up restaurant in Findlay Kitchen, Thursday through Saturday. The nine students serve 72 people a night, gaining real world experience.
Tell Us About Yourself.
My name is Anthony Berin, I grew up in the Cincinnati area. At the age of 14, I began working for Michael Forgus, who is also known as “Funky” in the culinary industry. I had the opportunity to work for Michael and several other chefs for four years throughout high school. After graduation I attended Miami University to get my bachelors degree, while still working in restaurants. By the time I graduated from Miami with a degree in diplomacy and foreign affairs, I had been working in restaurants for 8 years. I decided to go to culinary school because I realized that that’s what I want to do. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I attended Johnson and Wales and received my culinary degree. I stayed in Charlotte for five years and during that time I was able to open a couple of restaurants, as executive chef.
My wife and I decided it was time to move back to Cincinnati to be closer to family. Everything was happening here, so why not. It seemed amazing and I really wanted to come back and be a part of it. I ended up here at Findlay Kitchen as the kitchen manager. Findlay Kitchen helps small food startups open their own businesses. We help them set up business plans and sort through the in-and-outs of starting a business. I’ve been at Findlay Kitchen for about a year and a half. I saw the building being constructed and help set our processes in place. We currently have about 45 different businesses operating in this space.
What is City Kitchen? How does it work?
City Kitchen is a new program that is a partnership between Findlay Market, City Link Center, and our Development partner, Model Group. It’s a workforce development program that combines robust soft-skill training, as in life skills, conflict resolution, problem solving, and financial planning, with hard-skill culinary training. We provide support to our students along with a robust culinary education.
Being a part of the food industry, I knew there was a shortage of skilled staff. Chef friends of mine and restaurateurs were constantly expressing the need for employees. Alternatively, Cincinnati has a high unemployment rate, especially among citizens who are returning from the criminal justice systems. Employment has been shown to reduce the amount of recidivism (returning to the system).
It is often difficult for returning citizens to find steady employment because of their past history. It’s hard to expect someone to become a productive citizen if they are unable to find paid work. We wanted to try to bring those two groups together. One group is in desperate need of employees and the other is in desperate need of jobs. For some reason the two groups just weren’t connecting.
City Kitchen is our solution. We’re not training people, we’re educating them. We don’t take the “do this task over and over” approach. We educate our students on why the tasks need to be done and how the tasks are done.
We are currently in our pilot program. The program is 8 weeks long, with the first four weeks being a combination of soft-skills training in the morning and hard-skills training in the afternoons. In the afternoon we do five hours of intensive culinary training, much of which you’d see in culinary school. The final four weeks are made up of more training paired with a pop-up restaurant that operates Thursday through Saturday right here in Findlay Kitchen. The part of our program that we find unique is the experience in a live environment. Some programs students go through 8 weeks of training and never experience what it’s like to work in a restaurant, which increases the risk of failure. It’s hard to succeed if you don’t understand what you’re getting into.
After our students enter the workforce, we run an 18-month feedback loop. We check in periodically with not just the student but the student’s employer. We want feedback from everyone. We want to know if we’re educating our students with the proper skills. Did we provide the right tools? Is there something we should incorporate in the next group? We also help our students work through any life or work struggles they may be experiencing, so that they are less likely to quit or be unhappy in the workplace.
How did City Kitchen Begin?
Once we decided we were going to go for it, we brought in an organization called FareStart out of Seattle. FareStart is a large non-profit organization that operates food service operations like this. We brought FareStart in to help us with a feasibility study, so that we could understand what it is that we are trying to accomplish and if the need exists in Cincinnati. We did the study and spoke to employers and other organizations running similar programs like Cincinnati Cooks, Talbert House, and Venice on Vine. Through the feasibility study, we found there is a need and there’s more capacity here in the city.
So we said, let’s test it. We wrote a curriculum, which is what I worked on. We utilized some assets we had. Findlay Market has great resources and knowledge and City Link has a commercial kitchen in their building. City Link Center recruited nine individuals for the program and we just got to work.
What did your team struggle with the most when you decided to start City Kitchen?
I think the biggest struggle our team had was determining whether as organizations we were sticking true to our missions. This program is a lot to take on. It took a lot of effort and coordination. It was super important for us to really do the research and understand the process instead of just jumping in. We had to clearly define what it was that we wanted to accomplish with this.
How did you learn about Cincy Elevator and why did you decide to apply?
Joe Hansbauer is the CEO and president of the corporation for Findlay Market. He’s known about the work that Flywheel does from early on. We knew we wanted to go through the accelerator. The City Kitchen concept was still floating around in everyone’s head and we hadn’t yet done the feasibility study. That culminated at the same time. We felt it would be a great idea to use this opportunity to flesh out some of our ideas and figure out what we were going to have to do to really run this program. I had the good fortune to go through the program for the organization.
So what was it like going through Cincy Elevator? What did you learn?
Personally, as an employee for the corporation for Findlay Market, I came onboard as a restaurant chef. I’ve opened a few restaurants in my time as a chef and ran several kitchens. That’s all I’ve known for 14 years. So shifting into this non-profit sector and into the world of social enterprise was different. I’ve always been really interested in this work and the program really helped me with some personal growth. It helped me dig into this new world that I’m now working in. The program helped me focus in on what we’re doing, what our goals are and how can I help us get there. It showed me how I can contribute more to the team to help us reach our goals. It was a huge help for myself and in the grand scheme of our program.
What aspect of Elevator has been most valuable to you?
I would say the people that I’ve met. I’ve always been interested in the realm of entrepreneurship. When starting your own business, especially for the first time, the best thing you can do is be around people who are reaching for the same goals or who have done what you’re trying to do. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I knew I needed to go to a room where I could grow and learn from others. So being in this program with a bunch of other people trying to accomplish something is huge. Starting from scratch with almost nothing was awesome. Everyone got to grow together. I’m doing a workforce development program and over there is a business taking about LGBTQ rights and healthcare. We may not seem to have a lot in common, but our struggle to get to our end goals is exactly the same. It was very cool to be able to talk to people and get different points of view from different industries and sectors.
The speakers that were brought in were great. How they make a living may have nothing to do with what I’m trying to do, but when we talk about things such as startup funding, it all makes sense. So just being able to soak up all of that was pretty awesome. With that group I was definitely in the right room, just learning as much as I could.
What advice would you give to the next round of elevator participants?
My advice is to focus. Do all of the things that they ask of you. You’re not too good for any one task. There’s a reason for it. There is a learning opportunity for everyone, so utilize it. Show up for things. Talk to people. Put your name out there and shake hands. It doesn’t matter what someone’s background is. Whether it is technology, food, healthcare, mindfulness, childcare, you’re all trying to start a business. There’s something to learn from everyone’s struggle. Just get out there and talk to people.
What opportunities are there for someone who’s interested in being involved in City Kitchen?
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities. There is also an opportunity to possibly hire some of our students if you are a part of the food industry. We aren’t just focusing on restaurants exclusively. We’re focusing on food service as a whole. We’re always looking for partnerships with food distributors or various food companies to help provide stuff for our training. To be honest I think there are a million different ways to be involved and we don’t know all of them yet. Almost every day there’s something that pops up.
For our pop-up dinners, we reach out to everyone we know in the food service industry, especially in restaurants, to come and assist with front of house operations. All of the servers for our pop-up dinners are volunteers coming to us from different restaurants and bars around town.
If you want to get involved, just contact us. We’ll find something for you to do.
What’s next? Where do you see the future of City Kitchen?
We’re working with our development partner, Model Group, to help us out with space right here in the neighborhood. We want to create jobs for this neighborhood [Over-the-Rhine] and keep people who are living here and have been living here for 40 years, HERE. We’d love for City Kitchen to become a full-fledge restaurant here in the Market District. And we want that restaurant to be successful in its own right. We don’t want people to show up just because there’s a mission. We want people to show up because the food is delicious and they want to eat here. The future vision is that we will take our nine person program and expand it to hopefully 20-30 people at a time. Those people will be the full staff of the restaurant. Then they will graduate out of the program and into externships.
In the short term, what’s next? A few more pilot sessions, just to continue to nail down our curriculum and to continue to drive momentum. Keep putting people out there with jobs and building credibility not only for the program, but for the people we’re trying to serve. We want to put our students out there and show people that they deserve to be hired.
For questions regarding City Kitchen, email Anthony Berin
Click here to watch Anthony’s Demo Day pitch for City Kitchen at the 2016 SECincy Summit