Groundwork Kitchen’s 14,000 square-foot building features two levels. The full-service restaurant sits on top while the lower level serves as the space for the culinary program to take place. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Nonprofit Paul’s Place has served the Southwest Baltimore community for over 30 years, providing them with access to healthcare, housing, education, healthy food, clothing marketplaces and employment opportunities at no cost. According to a 2017 neighborhood profile report from the Baltimore City Health Department, the family poverty rate in Southwest Baltimore is 45.9% compared to 28.8% in Baltimore City overall. Paul’s Place credits part of this poverty to the employment barriers that Southwest Baltimore residents face. 

Now, the nonprofit is generating its own employment opportunity in the form of Groundwork Kitchen, a full-service restaurant and the home of a free culinary arts training program in the Pigtown neighborhood. The idea for the restaurant transpired after Executive Director William McLennan witnessed a presentation from Catalyst Kitchens, an initiative of Seattle-based organization FareStart. Their model assists individuals who encounter obstacles to employment by training them in the food service industry. Groundwork Kitchen’s opening in July breathed life into McLennan’s vision, who has served Paul’s Place for nearly 20 years. 

The restaurant will welcome a cohort of up to 20 people over the age of 18 who will take part in a free 12-week culinary arts training program. The students will gain culinary skills, life skills, hands-on experience and personalized case management support. “They will be able to go out into the hospitality industry and become employable to better their lives,” said Executive Chef Kimberly Triplett. 

The name Groundwork Kitchen was chosen because Paul’s Place believes that to create impactful change, you have to start from the ground and work your way up. The restaurant’s students will learn table service fundamentals, knife skills and food safety. The curriculum will also focus on strengthening the students’ soft skills of customer service, attendance, time management and teamwork. After completing the program, they will earn a ServSafe certification. “Upon graduation, we’ll help with job placement assistance and retention, and we’ll support them for six months after job placement,” said Triplett. The first cohort of students are set to start in October.

Currently, Groundwork Kitchen is offering carry out and corporate catering services and plans to begin sit-down dining shortly after Labor Day. Triplett, who curated the menu, said the restaurant serves breakfast all day and provides vegan and vegetarian options. Some of the menu items include truffle fries, dry-aged burgers, flatbread pizzas and crab cake sandwiches. All of the profits generated from sales will be used to continue funding the culinary school program. 

Through the program, Triplett hopes to transfer her love of food and feeding people to the students. She said she loves hearing customers express how delicious Groundwork Kitchen’s food is. “That’s impactful, and I still get a lot out of that,” said Triplett. “I’m hoping that it transfers to the students as well.”

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