Friday, November 13, 2015

The Town Kitchen: Walking the Talk, Putting Great Food in a Box

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We are proud to use The Town Kitchen to cater our How Kids Learn V - Berkeley conference on December 10 and our HKL Speaker's Forum on December 11. The Town Kitchen is a social enterprise which is focused on training youth for work and career success. 

Their vision is to create community through local food; a community where low-income Oakland youth can shine; a community where they will introduce under-served youth to talented chefs & start-up entrepreneurs so they have the skills and network to pursue their future.

You can learn more about The Town Kitchen by visiting their website. Click on the photo below to view their video. 

The Town Kitchen was founded by Sabrina Mutukisna. Sabrina will also present The Town Kitchen story at the How Kids Learn V conference in Berkeley. Below, she responded to a number of our questions.

Sabrina Mutukisna,
Co-Founder and CEO
The Town Kitchen
Q: Can you say a little bit about the Town Kitchen? What is your mission and what is it that you offer for youth? 

A: The Town Kitchen is a community-driven food business that employs and empowers low-income youth. We deliver chef-crafted boxed lunch to Bay Area corporate clients. We also provide fair-wage jobs, entrepreneurial training, and access to college course credit for young people with barriers to employment. 

Q: In what way do you consider the Town Kitchen as a social enterprise? 

A: As a for-profit benefit corporation, we're both positioned for growth and committed to supporting young people. We measure our impact not only through our revenue but through the number of young people who have completed our training, who are actively employed, and are enrolled in post-secondary education.

Q: What do you think that youth value most about being involved in your organization? 

A: That's a great question. I think they value the community the most. They get to come to work and there are multiple people invested in their well-being. They get to be themselves and talk about what's going on in their lives. To be honest, I think we all need this at work but it's especially important for young people who are carrying so much on their shoulders.

I think our youth employees also value being an important part of the business. We're a small company, so they play a pivotal role in our growth. It's important we all produce a high-quality product and make customer service a priority.

Q: Do you believe that there is an equity problem in offering youth of color opportunities for workplace learning? If yes, do you think this is important? And why? 

A: Employing young people means they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from college. Currently, white youth are twice more likely to be employed than young people of color.  This is an issue in the immediate -- oftentimes youth of color need jobs to support their families. It's also a longterm issue. Access to workplace learning helps young people build transferable skills, expand professional networks and, most importantly, become confident in their abilities. 

Workplace learning is also a place where we expose youth to different careers across the educational spectrum. I think this is a huge issue when we think of systemic privilege. People do what they know. If youth of color never meet another person of color with an advanced degree, chances are, they aren't going to pursue it. 

Q: Do you encourage your youth to think of the food preparation industry as a career choice? Or do you encourage them to think in another way? 

A: Yes and no. We recognize that there are systemic inequities within the food system too. Oftentimes, folks of color are in the back of restaurants. As a minority-owned business, we hope to disrupt this hierarchy. We're inspired by our partners at Red Bay and Mamacitas Cafe who are championing change. And by the folks at People's Kitchen that actively work for food workers rights. Some of our young people are really passionate about becoming executive chefs and we certainly want to encourage them. Our job is to prepare them to be competitive and employable if and when they leave us.

The majority of our employees are still figuring out their futures. We don't want to rush them. We want to provide them with a great job while they're working towards their degree. While they're with us, they have conversations about race and privilege, explore entrepreneurship and receive formal and informal mentorship.  Having them employed while in school is a win for us too. The food industry is notorious for high turnover. Retaining employees who are equally passionate about our mission, allows us to build a great company.

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