L.A. Kitchen exists to take advantage of the millions of pounds of food and produce disposed of every year simply because it is cosmetically imperfect. This program uses this food in its job training program for individuals who have been recently incarcerated or those whose foster care has timed out. These people are trained as chefs, and, as a result, they gain the skills they need to secure a quality job in the future, all while creating meals for those less fortunate. The organization’s Founder and President, Robert Egger, describes L.A. Kitchen as “a strong beacon that represents a new kind of business called ‘social enterprise.’”
When Egger initially obtained funding to start the organization, he was not interested in buying a building. When he met with the founders of L.A. Prep, he discovered they were looking for a lead tenant for a space unlike any that had been built for chefs before. Their concept offered chefs rentable kitchens geared to the manufacture of specialty foods and included a system for equipment purchasing, kitchen customization, regulatory approvals, and supply sourcing. They also sought to create a community for chefs that might offer opportunities for sharing resources. Egger says, “What I wanted to do was so in sync with what they wanted to do. We realized we’d be stronger together than we would be apart.” And, so, L.A. Kitchen teamed with L.A. Prep as their lead tenant, and the project took off.
The construction of L.A. Kitchen faced many challenges along the way. Robert Egger said “I’m here building something that is going to serve older people in the middle of a town that worships youths.” There were concerns regarding the effectiveness of this program. Also, the fundraising for L.A. Kitchen could not begin until the building for L.A. Prep was purchased, and how much money L.A. Kitchen could actually raise was a concern. The other challenge was accommodating their space in the basement with a very low overhead clear height. In the end, all the challenges were met and their space is very functional. Egger states, “HBC was really patient (regarding fundraising efforts). They kept faith with us, and we were able to pull it (L.A. Kitchen) together.”
L.A. Kitchen occupies approx. 6,300 square feet of the ground floor and occupies approx. 14,250 square feet of the basement. The kitchen’s ground floor space has 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, 2 walk-in coolers and a large food prep area with 3 grease hoods. The floor space also features portable stainless steel tables and countertops, vinyl covered floors, and acoustic ceiling tiles. The basement area contains their food prep/assembly area, as well as their employee break area, offices and conference room.
L.A. Kitchen is just getting started. They opened strong, and now it is their goal to have 150 people, who otherwise would have gone to prison or back to prison, learning invaluable skills while creating 10,000 meals a day – “beautiful healthy meals that will make seniors strong and help children thrive,” says Egger.