Scott Barnes arrives at the Finney State Office Building at 7:15 a.m., nearly two hours before training starts. He stays until 5:30 p.m., more than two hours after the others finish.
He chops vegetables and washes dishes for six hours a day at the new Green Leaf Cafe, learning the nuances of restaurant work.
Soon, he said, he hopes to support his family — his wife, Rachel, and nearly 2-year-old son, Kayden — on his own.
“I hope it helps me find work,” Barnes said. “I’m really not having any luck finding a job anywhere else.”
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Green Leaf Cafe, a recent partnership between the Department for Children and Families and Episcopal Social Services, is giving low-income, unemployed Kansans like Barnes a chance to learn new skills and get back to work.
The cafe workers are trainees: members of low-income families seeking cash assistance who need to meet work training requirements to receive state benefits.
“The mission of the cafe is to prepare clients for self-sufficiency, that we can provide them with good work experiences and good references,” said Diane Bidwell, regional director of the Department for Children and Families in Wichita, formerly Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Her partner, Episcopal Social Services executive director Barb Andres, agreed.
“That’s the goal is to get those people some good jobs so they can get off of welfare. It’s really a welfare-to-work program,” she said.
The project will reopen a long-closed cafe on the seventh floor of the Finney building, 130 S. Market, and give downtown Wichita a new option for healthy fare: a fully stocked salad bar; a daily self-service hot entree such as fajitas, pasta or pork loin; and a smattering of sandwiches made to order.
Culinary arts experience
Barnes, 30, said he lost his job at a nursing home about three months ago. He lives in Milton, a tiny town southwest of Wichita, with his parents. He hopes his new culinary skills will help him find kitchen work in a Wichita restaurant.
“There’s different techniques … that I know now, as far as food prep, cutting, (and) the easiest way to dice tomatoes and onions. There’s easier ways to do it, and I always took the long way around to do it,” Barnes said.
His fellow trainee, 32-year-old Emily Colle of Wichita, said she hopes the program will reintroduce her to the workforce. She’s been unemployed since 2008.
“It’s helping me get back out into society. That’s No. 1 for myself,” said Colle, who has an 8-month-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.
“It’s more one-on-one in the smaller setting and working with the five other people that we have here and it’s all familiar, it’s just helping me improve … and get on top of things,” she said. She plans to seek a waitressing job soon.
Both transferred to the cafe from the soup kitchen at Episcopal Social Services Venture House, 1005 E. Second St., which offers basic food industry training.
At the cafe, the “culinary arts kitchen experience,” CAKE for short, teaches up to eight trainees per class advanced food preparation and some management in four to six weeks.
Training started in early August.
“They’ll get experience from hostess to dish washer to food prep — all of those different elements that go into the restaurant industry will be learned here,” said Bidwell. Others skills taught include customer service, food safety and preparation, interviewing and resume assistance.
The whole program may take up to 12 weeks. Trainees work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bidwell said she hopes similar projects can be implemented statewide.
The work program is provided at no cost to trainees, but they must be eligible to receive cash assistance from the state.
Those interested should contact the department for more details or fill out an application for assistance online at www.dcf.ks.gov.
Healthy, affordable fare
The café will be open to the public for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday starting in September. Continental breakfast — bread items, fruit and yogurt — will be served from 8-10 a.m.
Program officials expect the cafe to serve 150 to 200 people daily. Most will be staff in the Finney building; others will be clients of DCF; some will walk in off the street.
A typical lunch — costing from $5 to $7.50 — might be a pita-bread pizza, tortellini salad, a cup of fresh fruit and soda. Or a kitchen-sink club — ham, turkey, bacon, chicken and avocado — paired with hummus chips, a brownie and iced tea.
Other sandwich offerings will include a Greek pita; a bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich; pulled pork and coleslaw; and a spicy Philly cheese steak. There’s also a chicken salad croissant and the “Fancy Pants” grilled cheese — sourdough with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil pesto.
One of the cafe’s signature sandwiches is a lasagna hoagie: cheese lasagna, pepperoni and sausage stuffed into a roll, smothered with marinara and parmesan.
The lunch wait may be longer than at other restaurants. But that’s all a part of training, said Aaron Knapp, Green Leaf Cafe kitchen manager and trainer.
“The general 10-minute rule for most establishments here will probably look more like 15. So if somebody wants a sandwich but they are in a hurry, they might opt for a hot item,” he said.
The cafe also will offer “grab-and-go” items like salads, sandwiches, yogurts and fruit cups. Sides, desserts and drinks will be offered a la carte. Soups will be available seasonally.
And corrections, rather than refunds, will be offered for food mistakes.
“We want to set standards to where everyone is happy with what they are paying for,” he said. “Overall, this is a work program first, and food service second.”
Until the cafe’s grand opening, Barnes, Colle and others in the program work daily — chopping, dicing, assembling — slowly getting closer to self-sufficiency.
“Mainly I’m doing it to better myself as a person and to take care of my responsibilities — my family,” Colle said.