Full City spotlight: This $20 million Seattle nonprofit helps vulnerable people find work in food

It’s like a cross between Philabundance Community Kitchen and EAT Cafe, plus more.


Last week we kicked off the Full City Challenge, a collaboration between Billy Penn and the Economy League meant to jumpstart solutions to pervasive Philly problems using our region’s robust food economy.


Through Jan. 24, we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new collaborations that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address the city’s hunger, poverty and underlying causes affecting too many residents.


If you can think of a project that might help to do this, we want to know what it is — and maybe even give you $5,000 to pilot the idea.


There’s a lot of this kind of work already going on, both in Philly and around the country. Each week until the Full City application deadline, we’ll showcase a different innovative program — perhaps it’ll give you an idea you might submit to the challenge.


Up first: FareStart.



FareStart is a self-sustaining, entrepreneurial nonprofit that provides several job-training programs designed to help people experiencing economic hardship enter the food industry.


The James Beard Award-winning organization is kind of like a cross between Philabundance Community Kitchen and Philly’s EAT Cafe, plus more.



Seattle — but the org’s membership arm has 60-plus organizations enrolled across the United States and in Canada.



The program was founded 30 years ago by chef David Lee under the name Common Meals. It started small, with the goal of providing high-quality, nutritious meals for a local homeless shelter by training the people who lived there to cook them.


In its founding year, the program graduated three people. Last year, it graduated 250.


This summer, Angela Stowell stepped in as CEO, leaving her job as head of a successful restaurant group to lead the fast-growing nonprofit, which nearly doubled in size over the course of 2018.



Under the FareStart umbrella, there are four different culinary training programs:


Adult culinary program


Youth culinary program


Youth barista program


Foodservice apprenticeship program


They’re all free of charge, and they’re geared toward people who’ve experienced poverty, addiction, homelessness and/or incarceration. The programs span from eight to 16 weeks, and students are promised to graduate with skills marketable in the food-service industry.


More than 90 percent of FareStart adult graduates have jobs within 90 days of finishing the program.

Why does the program have such a high rate of success? To be fair, they’ve got money to work with — FareStart’s budget is $20 million. Half of that is generated by its own businesses (catering, restaurants, cafes), 40 percent comes from private fundraising and 10 percent comes from the government, per Stephanie Schoo, FareStart’s director of communications.


Still, Schoo said, the program works ultimately because the food industry is ripe for growth.


“In most of the United States we’re seeing growth in food-service, and there’s a really short ramp to getting jobs in that sector,” Schoo told Billy Penn. “It’s a model that works well for people who’ve been out of work for a long time.”



To make this program work in Philly, we’d need:


- Profitable businesses that would generate revenue and hire program graduates


- Lots of private fundraising


- A little public money


This article originally appeared on Billy Penn.