Charlotte nonprofit culinary school to open cafe

07/10/2014 4:52 PM

07/11/2014 8:41 AM

The nonprofit Community Culinary School of Charlotte is opening a restaurant on Monroe Road, a move that will eventually shift its headquarters from South End to east Charlotte.

Executive Director Ron Ahlert said the change is intended to help the school become more self sustaining and to expand its classes to include customer service and restaurant management.

Classes will begin at the new location in September, and the restaurant will likely open in the fall, serving breakfast and lunch, he said.

“This has been a dream for about five years,” said Ahlert. “It will put us in a position where we are not always asking (donors) for help. We’ll be helping ourselves, doing our part to be self-sustaining,”

It will also give the students a chance to hear the unvarnished truth about their cooking. “They’ll deal with customers face to face and get immediate feed back on the food.”

Ahlert’s dream is to have the students create a menu of “signature” items at the new cafe that customers can either eat in or take out. A small staff of graduates will be hired to help run the cafe, aided by students.

The site, at 9315 Monroe Road, is the former home of the Bread Basket cafe in the Greylyn Business Park. It closed at the end of March, leaving the site free to be leased, Ahlert said.

Charlotte is already home to a couple of nonprofit restaurants. The best known is Kings Kitchen in uptown, which donates its profits to feed the poor and partners with area ministries to provide employment opportunities to Charlotteans.

Second Helping, on Central Avenue, also helps provide job opportunities, with a focus on formerly incarcerated women.

The Community Culinary School was founded 17 years ago in a one-room section of unfinished warehouse space. Since then, more than 780 students have graduated from a 14-week training program, which provides training for jobs in the food industry.

Sixty students graduate annually, and as many as 80 percent go straight into jobs, school officials said. At least a half dozen restaurants in the city are managed or owned by graduates of the school, Ahlert said.

Like Second Helping, the program originally focused on people who were recently incarcerated, but the students have become increasingly mainstream in recent years. Today, about half the students are veterans of the prison system, he said. The other half are unemployed people looking for new job opportunities.

The culinary school has two other food service programs in South End that will also be relocated to the new site: Encore Catering service, and the Bistro Buggy food cart which travels the city four days a week selling specialty foods.

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