The countdown is on to the opening of a new café designed to give vulnerable young adults a leg up in entering the business world.
Organizers hope to have the first class in place for the Refill Café by July or August.
The café, which will be located in the old Koinonia Coffee House in West Jackson, will give students 10 weeks of paid classroom and on-the-job training, designed to prepare them for entry-level jobs in the community.
The first class is expected to have 12 students, who will complete five weeks of classroom training, followed by five weeks of hands-on training in the café itself.
Upon completion, participants should have the skills needed to land entry-level positions in various fields, not just in the restaurant business.
“What we are doing is using on-the-job training in the café as time (for students) to practice the soft skills they’ll discuss in the classroom,” said Project Manager Jordan Butler. “This is not a culinary training program.”
Soft skills include teaching students the importance of arriving to work on time, how to work well with co-workers, the importance of personal hygiene and the like.
After graduation, Refill will continue to work with graduates early on to improve their chances of success.
The program is geared toward young adults, ages 18-24. Refill is working with local partners to refer students to the program.
It is modeled after a similar program in New Orleans, Cafe Reconcile, which has been in operation for nearly two decades.
The initiative is initially being funded with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation.
Hopes are earnings from the restaurant will cover food and other supplies, while grants and donations will cover salaries of Refill students.
“We’re a nonprofit program training people and providing a venue for the training,” Butler said. “Our longer-term plan will be determining how to bring additional income into the organization.”
A meeting was held recently at Bravo! Italian Restaurant to discuss the initiative further.
“We know that metro area employers are ready and willing to train employees on their industry’s specific needs,” Refill board of directors chair Jeff Good said in a Facebook post. “However, the critical yet missing piece is an understanding and application of the soft skills that are essential to both getting and keeping a job – the ability to show up on time, follow through on tasks, work well with others and incorporate constructive criticism in job performance.”
The Southern Artisan Training Institute, Refill’s parent company, purchased the old Koinonia building in 2017, about a year after the coffee house closed.
Organizers plan to remodel the Adams Street facility before it opens. “We are in a conversation right now with both a contractor and an architect,” Butler said. “As of today, we are still planning (the) remodeling.”
The two-story facility includes the café and kitchen on the first floor and apartments on the second. Work will include remodeling the café and converting the upstairs apartments into classroom and office space, Butler explained.
The café’s menu had not been set at press time. “We are beginning those conversations this week,” Administrator Emily Stanfield said. “We will have lunch service Monday through Friday and will offer a healthy fare, (but) we have not designed the specifics of what we will be serving.”
The total budget for the first year is $1.4 million. That amount includes capital costs, program costs and operational costs for the entire program. Fund-raising efforts are underway, and officials hope to raise $140,000 to cover remaining costs for the first year. In addition, to remodel and pay off the building, Refill leaders hope to raise an additional $525,000, Stanfield said.
In addition to students, the restaurant will have 18 employees, including nine restaurant staffers, programming officials and administrators.
Plans are to have two classes the first year, with a two-week gap in between.