A new restaurant that helps train cooks is now serving up pancakes and waffles on Yale’s doorstep.
Orchid Café opened last week at 4 Science Park, an expansion of the nonprofit Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, which provides job training for residents in some of New Haven’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods such as Newhallville and Dixwell. While costumers eat their breakfasts and lunches, graduates of the program work and trainees receive on-the-job experience.
“We wanted to give training that was market relevant,” ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons said. “So we’re training people for jobs that are actually attainable.”
The cafe sells prepared, branded foods such as granola along with its cook-to-order dishes. All profits made at Orchid Café are siphoned back into developing the rest of the organization.
The three workers who currently run the cafe were part of the ConnCAT Culinary Arts Academy, an 11-month program that allows students to acquire food service training free of charge. The roughly dozen remaining graduates have all found employment elsewhere with their new skills, Clemons said.
Other ConnCAT programs, such as one that trains students to draw blood as phlebotomists and another that teaches them to analyze hospital bills as medical coders, have predominantly enrolled women, Clemons said. To attract more men of color to professional training, Clemons said ConnCAT decided to start the culinary program. In addition, as many as 30 percent of the culinary trainees are men who have been formerly incarcerated.
“We wanted to engage the re-entry population,” Clemons said.
Along with programs that attract disadvantaged people, ConnCAT’s location is strategically placed. Decades ago, the area served as New Haven’s manufacturing hub, with a Winchester Repeating Arms Company factory centrally located there. Now, the neighborhood has become a technology hub surrounded by low-income households.
By placing the developing ConnCAT in Science Park, the program is trying to draw the community into the new sector, said Clifton Graves, administrator of City Hall’s Project Fresh Start Re-entry Program.
Re-entry programs are currently experiencing trouble acquiring government funds with ongoing budget cuts at the state level, said Richard Borer, president of New Haven’s Easter Seals Goodwill Industries, which collaborates with re-entry programs. With those difficulties, partnerships between re-entry programs are becoming more important, he added.
Despite an increasingly difficult environment to acquire program money, ConnCAT still aims to further its expansion, providing more support for the community and similar local programs.
ConnCAT will start building garden beds next week to grow its own fruits, vegetables and herbs. Clemons hopes the produce will be used in the new cafe, sold in farmers’ markets as well as nearby Dixwell and Newhallville residents.
In the future, the organization will look at making child care more affordable and easing the path toward homeownership for city residents.
“We need to ask, ‘What is the economic development-lense that we can use to broaden and deepen our vision?’,” Clemons said.
ConnCAT was established in 2011.