In most major cities, there are two seemingly unrelated trends: a rise in homelessness and a shrinking restaurant labor pool. Organizations like Stone Soup PDX see an opportunity to help solve both problems.
After years of working abroad for USAID, Ronit Kirshner Gerard and Craig Gerard were looking to settle back in the United States. After hearing of chronic labor shortages in Portland, OR, they realized what their next mission was going to be: training people at risk of homelessness for a culinary career. They packed their bags and headed west – after a year of building relationships and meeting partners they started Stone Soup PDX.
Stone Soup PDX brings students in through referrals from community organizations like Central City Concern, Human Solutions, Street Roots and JOIN. The students are then placed into a 3-month program to teach the culinary basics and life skills needed to succeed in the hospitality industry. Since the best way to learn is to do, Stone Soup PDX is centered around a working restaurant.
The restaurant offers lunch and catered meals, and serves as an event space. This makes it the ideal training opportunity for those looking to enter the culinary industry. Led by experienced Chef Instructors like Scott Dolich, a notable Portland chef and restaurateur, students learn knife skills, prep, line cooking, food handling (including getting a food handlers card) and more – pretty much everything they need to get a job after they complete the program.
Craig Gerard is keeping a close eye on the program, making sure it produces measurable results. “We are tracking a number of outcomes, including how many graduate, how many get full-time jobs, what the wages of those jobs are and how long they keep those jobs,” he said. “Our outcome targets are that 90% of our graduates are working a living wage job within three months of graduating from Stone Soup.”
Stone Soup PDX also concentrates on developing its students’ life skills. Participants learn important lessons in personal budgeting, teamwork, conflict resolution and time management. Combined with their culinary training, these life skills go a long way to ensure each graduate’s success in the working world.
A large part of Stone Soup PDX is its job placement network. Once students complete the 12-week course, they are referred to an informal network of Portland area caterers and restaurants. The Stone Soup staff will work closely with their graduates to help with resumes, interview skills and advice as they go through the hiring process. With their newfound skills and confidence, Stone Soup graduates are attractive hires for many restaurants.
If you’d like to learn more about Stone Soup PDX, visit them at stonesouppdx.com.