Art

DINE FEATURE: OLD SKOOL CAFE | By Chelsea Larsson

FEEL-GOOD FOOD

Dining out in the Bay Area is usually an act of indulgence. I mean, who else is benefiting from you maxing out your credit card at Nopa or guiltily pleasuring yourself with a late-night Super Burrito—extra sour cream, ya’ll!

It is a rare moment when the decision to dine out can feed your soul, your stomach, and help out a worthy cause at the same time. Old Skool Cafe, a supper club and nonprofit in Hunter’s Point, provides this special moment.

Old Skool is a youth-run restaurant and job-training center for young adults in the Bay Area. Started by former corrections officer Teresa Goines, the cafe provides formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth with a legal way to make money, develop marketable job skills, and become part of a supportive community. Also, they whip up a mean gumbo.

Goines thought up the cafe during her seven years in youth gang prevention. After seeing the un-ending cycle of repeat offenders, she knew the system wasn’t working and wanted to be part of the change. “I asked what they needed—it was jobs and families.”

Goal in mind, Goines set out to create a place that provided a variety of job skills as well as job tenure. Many job-training programs, Goines found, offered skills but no experience, which led to unemployment, which led to the solace of gangs—repeat.

Goines’s model is different; it’s sustainable. At Old Skool Cafe, celebrity chefs conduct cooking classes and volunteers help with odd tasks, but the day-to-day business falls on the youth. Everything from recruiting the paid talent to creating a seasonal menu is in the hands of the young staff to deliver an amazing dining experience, and this crew definitely delivers.

The experience is one of an elegant 1940s supper club. Red booths fill the dimly lit dining room. Servers dressed in bow ties and suspenders mill around as a jazz band plays on the stage below. At any point, talented waitresses might join the jazz band for a soulful rendition of “Fever.”

Currently, two co-chefs, Daniel Bermudez and Jordan Ramsey, head the kitchen, cooking up dependable delights like collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie as well as some Old Skool Cafe originals.

Sweet potato fries are a must. Dusted with spicy Cajun seasoning and sugar, they only get better when dipped in the jalapeño ranch and chipotle aioli sauce. The same goes for Jordan’s Fried Chicken. It is buttermilk-soaked, fried crisp, and then served with garlic mashed potatoes and pickled cucumbers. Another favorite was the gumbo, a smoky bowl of andouille sausage, chicken, and shrimp piled high with sweet Dungeness crab.

One of the best dishes on the menu, the shrimp and grits, was actually a recipe submitted by long-term volunteer Jeffrey Liang. For four years, Liang has dedicated time to everything from managing the website to helping youth staff open their first bank accounts.

Liang isn’t the only smitten volunteer. One man ate at the cafe only once before volunteering his jazz band twice a month. Goines used to get warnings by mail that Old Skool Cafe would never work, but now the messages are from communities asking advice on how to start similar nonprofits. Old Skool is making changes, and people are inspired. Goines now employs 20 at-risk youths who may not have had a chance to work elsewhere. She also contracts an even larger number of youths as paid performers for the restaurant entertainment. Old Skool alumni have already moved on to other restaurants, barber schools, and, most recently, college, so the system is working.






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This article was published in:
Music Issue - Released January 2013
Issue 1 / Version 3 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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