By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
After nearly a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Groundwork Kitchen is gearing up to reopen its doors in Southwest Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. During the break, the restaurant gained two new members to its team, executive chef Jonathan Hicks, “The Uneek Chef,” and general manager Melanie Molinaro.
Currently, Groundwork Kitchen is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday for carryout. By the end of the month, the restaurant’s carryout will run Monday through Friday, and during the second week of February, it will be open for in-person dining.
Established in 2021, Groundwork Kitchen is a social enterprise out of Paul’s Place, a 40-year-old local nonprofit organization. It offers a free culinary arts training program for those interested in a hospitality career.
“Hospitality is and has always been one of the fastest-growing industries. Any city that you go into, you’re either going to go to a restaurant, hotel or somewhere to grab a snack, and what we wanted to do was provide a program that was going to jumpstart our students into that industry,” said Molinaro, who also owns Little Fig Bake Shop.
“But, we take it a step further by giving them certifications and job placement. We’re also striving to put them in jobs that are good-quality jobs that have great pay, benefits and flexible scheduling for those who have kids or are taking care of a parent.”
During the hiatus, Groundwork Kitchen also had an opportunity to revamp its operations, including extending carryout hours and installing a new bar in the restaurant.
It’s also instituting a new barista program for culinary arts trainees and ramping up its catering and rental services for businesses and organizations.
Hicks, who’s worked as a professional chef for 10 years, also designed a new menu for Groundwork Kitchen. He described the concept as comfort food with a twist with dishes, including slow-cooked short rib egg rolls, duck bao, vegan Nashville hot chicken and wild mushroom risotto.
For him, cooking is his superpower, and with it, he can change people’s worlds with just one plate of food.
“Everybody knows to go to Harbor East, or the Inner Harbor, or even Hampden and areas like that to eat, and there’s great quality food there, but someone needs to highlight all of these other neighborhoods where there are gems hiding in those neighborhoods,” said Hicks.
“Groundwork Kitchen can bring attention to the Pigtown area so that like Suspended Brewing and Swill gets more business. It’s just all for the better.”
As part of Groundwork Kitchen’s culinary arts training, students participate in a 12-week program that exposes them to food service fundamentals, including food safety, knife skills, table service and kitchen math. They engage in all facets of the restaurant business, including food preparation, catering, carry-out and sit-down service.
Students also leave the program as certified food handlers, managers, servers and kitchen cooks.
Molinaro said she hopes with the relaunch Groundwork Kitchen will be able to take its culinary arts students and staff on field trips to fisheries and farmers markets to learn more about food production.
“We want better for our students. We want better for our community and our city, and it starts here at Groundwork by holding that standard for that,” said Molinaro.
Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member.
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