At the corner of Fulton and Gough streets, bakery-cafe Hayes Valley Bakeworks serves a healthy dose of real-world solutions with scrumptious maple-bacon cinnamon rolls and ginger marmalade muffins on the side. The secret ingredient: A staff composed largely of disadvantaged and at-risk employees.
Opened in June, the shop is an arm of Toolworks, the local nonprofit that launched its now $6 million janitorial business back in 1975 to create employment opportunities for disabled people. While Toolworks appeals mostly to men, Bakeworks is a nonprofit social enterprise that’s accessible for homeless and transitional women as well. Here, employees benefit from on-the-job training they may not have found elsewhere and, due to the labor-intensive nature of baking, may develop serious skills. Already, two staffers have been able to move from a transitional shelter into permanent housing thanks to a regular paycheck.
Giving away 75 cents on the cost of an entrée is a hungry-man-plate-sized gesture in the restaurant business, which operates on very slim margins. But as the guys at Mission Chinese Food know, those pennies have the power to feed a lot of people. In just two years, they‘ve generated over $133,000 for the San Francisco Food Bank. “I figured if we made the food appealing enough, we could charge a little extra and be able to give it away,” says partner Anthony Myint; but the spicy kung pao pastrami hurts your tongue more than your wallet at just $11. MCF’s New York outpost, and Myint’s other restaurants, operate on similar donation programs. At Commonwealth, order executive chef Jason Fox’s $70 tasting menu, and they’ll donate $10 to charities. Mission Bowling Club, meanwhile, gives $1 to youth-related causes for every Sausage Corn Dog, Mission Burger, and Cinnamon Crunchy Toast sold. “The restaurant industry is a luxury industry,” says Myint. “It’s rare that you can do food that has a social impact.” But where there’s a will there’s a way.
It’s hard to imagine an esoteric chef of such international acclaim as Daniel Patterson explaining how to shop smart at Safeway. But that’s the reality of teaching at-risk youth how to take care of themselves. “People don’t know how to cook. They don’t know how to feed themselves real food,” Patterson says. “I’m talking about how to prepare a chicken, a carrot. It’s been lost.” For the past two years, Patterson and his team at Coi have worked with Larkin Street Youth Services hosting cooking classes for its participants. But to keep it up on a regular basis, the chef needed a space. Now as dean for the brand-new San Francisco Cooking School (next door to the Tenderloin Community School), Patterson is collaborating with founder Jodi Liano in the hopes of offering free healthy cooking classes taught by different chefs. Interested cooks, heads up—classes commence in January.
This article was published in 7x7's December issue. Click here to subscribe.