Maybe It Takes a Restaurant, Not a Village
When Monetta White and her husband, Chef David Lawrence, opened their modern Southern restaurant 1300 on Fillmore in San Francisco in 2007, their initial plan quickly expanded to something greater. The couple embraced the idea of giving back to the youth of the community, an ethos that extends to their latest venture, Black Bark BBQ, a restaurant located a few doors down in the same Western Addition neighborhood. The new concept specializes in Southern comfort food and urban barbecue. “I think you can’t be here if you’re not helping your own community,” says White, who co-owns the two establishments with Lawrence. “It’s our responsibility to make it better.”
In fact, White recalls that when Sheryl Davis and her nonprofit organization, Mo’MAGIC, which helps at-risk youths through afterschool programs and summer programs, brought in some local children to see 1300 on Fillmore a few years ago, the kids were elated to see an African-American couple running the establishment. “They saw me and my husband and said, ‘They’re black like us,’” says White, who was raised in the city’s predominantly African-American neighborhood of Potrero Hill. “I could just see what that meant to them, to see their own possibilities.”
Since then, allied with Mo’MAGIC, the couple have added summer internships that allow participants to learn about different staffing positions, and Chef Lawrence gives in-depth cooking classes. The restaurant uses its front- and back-of-house positions to teach restaurant skills to young people and to address diversity issues on the management side of the business. To address a growing truancy issue, White says they started a program: “Because if these kids are being accountable for going to school, [as part of their job] we can make sure they show us their grades and stay out of trouble. We’ll feed them, they’ll make money, and we can help mentor them.”
White says that many kids had shied away from restaurant management jobs due to a lack of confidence. However, with the training at 1300 on Fillmore and the right encouragement, the kids’ verbal communication skills have blossomed. White and Lawrence have also helped by adjusting work schedules so some employees can go to college. Two employees who started in the summer program now work at Black Bark BBQ, and White adds that they recently started a culinary boot camp for people with challenging histories (many of whom have been incarcerated or dealt with drinking problems) to help those individuals acquire skills to return to the workforce.
Born to Jamaican parents who were immigrants, Chef Lawrence grew up in a London council house (the British equivalent of U.S. public housing that is often referred to as the projects), so he understands many of the kids he mentors. The chef feels it’s crucial to show young people the culinary career paths that are available, and to give them work experience and communication skills. “I always tell them it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish in life,” he says.