The Chester County Food Bank, courtesy of its FRESHstart Kitchen culinary training program, has been named a Restaurant Ready Partner of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
The designation enables FRESHstart Kitchen students to get certified in additional core competencies to further prepare them for opportunities and sustainable employment in the food service industry.
Since 2009, the Chester County Food Bank has been the central hunger relief organization in Chester County addressing food insecurity by mobilizing the community to ensure access to real, healthy food. In 2018, as part of its strategic plan, the organization launched FRESHstart Kitchen to educate and prepare under or unemployed people in the community who show interest in food industry careers.
An acronym for “Focusing Resources on Employment, Self-Sufficiency, and Health,” FRESHstart Kitchen is specifically designed to assist individuals with barriers to employment gain life skills to help address the challenges of entering or reentering the workforce. The FRESHstart Kitchen is a fully certified production kitchen, located within the Food Bank’s headquarters in Exton.
“It’s 12 weeks of culinary training, and during those weeks, it is an opportunity for students to reflect on where they have been, where they are currently, and where they want to be,” said Amy Rossman, the Food Bank’s Workforce Development Manager. Rossman looks for potential students who have a goal of working in the hospitality and food service industry and guides them through the FRESHstart Kitchen application and interview process. She is also the facilitator for the self-empowerment and work-readiness segments of the program.
As part of the program, FRESHstart Kitchen staff and students operate a café for a simulated restaurant environment designed to provide students a hands-on learning experience while also showcasing their culinary and service talents. Students will also complete an internship in the food industry, and many of them are offered positions after their internships.
The Restaurant Ready Partner program’s goals align well with what the FRESHstart Kitchen has been doing all along: putting underserved people on a path to employment and independence and establishing the restaurant industry as a suitable place for first jobs, career development, and advancement.
“The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation was looking for community-based partners to be able to facilitate the Restaurant Ready curriculum, which is evidence-based and created by people who work in the restaurant industry,” said Rossman, who initiated the application process. “Their curriculum teaches six competencies found to be the most important for students to be able to become independent and sustainable in the restaurant industry.”
The six competencies include personal responsibility, communication, attitude, learning, customer service, and industry-specific skills such as culinary knowledge, food safety, and order and payment.
“The Restaurant Ready program means we are nationally recognized as a partner,” said Rossman. “The curriculum affords us an opportunity to give an added credential to the students for those six competencies, which is very important to us, and those in the industry will recognize that our students are restaurant-ready.”
An additional requirement for programs to receive the Restaurant Ready designation is for them to offer “wrap-around” services to their students once they graduate, and thus help eliminate any barriers to a successful career in the food industry. That service is something FRESHstart Kitchen is already doing, as it stays connected with students for two years after they graduate and begin working.
“We want to advocate for our students and see them succeed,” said Rossman. “We feel very grateful to be part of the journey that each of the students is on and for them to recognize that we are here to support them on that path.”