by Ian McNulty
There aren't too many places to get a decent, sit-down meal near the corner of Tulane and Broad, the hub of the city's criminal justice system. But that's a pretty small concern next to the bleak prospects for self-improvement that present themselves to many of those compelled to visit the area. People end up at Tulane and Broad en route to the criminal courthouse, the parish prison or the many bail bonds operations lining the nearby storefronts.
The new Liberty's Kitchen, however, is doing its part to fill both the void for meals and for more meaningful opportunities. The nonprofit serves the public as a casual, colorful breakfast and lunch café and coffee shop. And it serves as a chance for teens and young adults who haven't gotten much of a break in the world to learn new life skills and see the fruits of hard work.
Liberty's Kitchen opened for business today, and will host a fundraiser and grand opening gala on Saturday, April 18, with food and drinks, live music and a chance to learn about the new program in person.
Those familiar with the nonprofit restaurant and training program at Café Reconcile in Central City will recognize the concept of Liberty's Kitchen. Reconcile was the new nonprofit's inspiration, and two of Liberty's Kitchen's founders, CEO Janet Davas and chef Reggie Davis, both worked at Reconcile in the past. Davis, Davas and chef Hardie McDonald began planning this new program last year.
Teens are referred to Liberty's Kitchen by other social service groups or through courthouse diversion programs. They get hands-on job training at the café, learning to prepare and serve meals. But, just as important to the program's goals, the intent is that they also develop social skills for self-reliance that they can take with them to any future line of work. They earn wages that rise when they attain program goals, and they get plenty of assistance along the way from a case manager and a transition specialist to help them get a job after the program.
"We don't pretend to be a culinary program, this is an employability program," says Davas. "They'll learn kitchen and barista skills, but our goal is to give them life skills and put them on a path to success, things like showing up to work on time, anger management, working with others."
The grand opening gala is scheduled for Saturday, April 18, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the café. The event features dishes from chef Davis with the assistance of visiting chefs from Manhattans CulinaryCorps; wine, spirits and new NOLA Brewing Co. products courtesy of Glazers Cos.; and live music from David Torkanowsky, plus Bob French, Juanita Brooks and James Rivers. Tickets are $50. Call Libertys Kitchen at 822-4011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase.
The café is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 422 1/2 S. Broad St., serving breakfast, lunch and Starbucks-brand coffee drinks. Visit their Web site for more information.