LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Chances are you've shopped at Kroger or eaten at local hot spots like Mussel and Burger Bar or Impellizzeris. If that's the case, you likely benefited from the students of the Common Table Program. It's run by Catholic Charities and now responsible for dozens of success stories.
It started four years ago as a way to help refugees in need of job training and job placement. It's since expanded to support students who were maybe previously in prison, lack a formal education, or got laid off from a different industry.
"Food service is one of the few industries now that students or people can come in at the ground level with zero experience with maybe their ServSafe Food Handlers Permit that they get here in class and build the skills through experience and work their way up in the industry,” Common Table & Common Earth Gardens Director Laura Stevens said. "The hospitality industry in Louisville is really booming right now. So, while there might be slowdowns in some other areas of industry as far as hiring, the hospitality industry is still open and looking for jobs."
The eight-week class runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students split their time between the classroom and the kitchen, getting hands-on learning experience. They focus on food safety, sanitation, and soft job skills like scheduling and communication.
"About an hour of the class is spent in the classroom where we're going over the lesson for the day, and then the rest of the time is hands-on,” Stevens said. "They're getting immediate opportunity to practice the skills they're learning in the classroom hands-on in the kitchen. We'll have people come in that just feel really uncertain about working their way around the kitchen and their leadership skills and things like that. This program gives them the opportunity to really delve into that."
It's a $500 tuition, but students earn their spot with extra service hours or assistance programs. They also earn their ServSafe certification, which makes them highly marketable. The program partners with the Omni Hotel and other local restaurants to set their students up for success after they graduate.
"It's just the atmosphere. You've got good people that are really willing to go out of their way for others. The whole atmosphere in the hotel is like that. It's not just the kitchen,” Common Table graduate and Omni employee Tyrone Quisenberry Jr. said. "I feel like if you're in the position, no matter what it is, if you're a bus driver, an anchor, or a cook, you should be able to help people with what you do. So, if there are hungry people, I should be able to do that with my position."
Head Chef Jamie Huddleston is also a graduate of the program and loved it so much she stayed on as an intern and then became a permanent employee.
"Before this program, I had really bad social anxiety. I wasn't really a sociable person. I was a house hermit, and I was in bad place. Since this program, I have been able to get off most government assistance, which is huge for me because I can pass something bigger down to my children. Even though we live in a food desert, in a poverty area, I'm still instilling in my kids that there's hope and you can do whatever wherever you are,” Huddleston said. "It's been really life-changing, and it gives me hope that I can keep going further and doing better, and that's huge. It's a priceless feeling. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I think it's really cool to give people the opportunity to do something more."
The program also offers catering and an on-site restaurant. The Common Table Cafe is open every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and specializes in sandwiches and salads. Catering orders can be placed for boxed lunches and hot food items. All of the revenue goes right back into training more students.
The program also hosts the Table of Plenty. It runs from noon to 5 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month and feeds anyone no questions asked for free. The students make enough food for about 300 people, and it's usually packed.
If you or someone you know is a good fit for the program, new rounds start the first Monday of the month. It's rolling enrollment, but calling ahead to reserve a spot is recommended. Contact Director Laura Stevens with questions:
502-873-2566 ext. 256