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Nourishing minds and bodies

A new cafe at the Providence Public Library will double as a culinary training site

Students at the Genesis Center in Providence during a culinary skills training session.Genesis Center

In the next few weeks, construction will be underway at the Providence Public Library. But it won’t be in the archives, or a renovation of the rare books section.

Come 2022, a new restaurant run by the Genesis Center, known as CHOP (the Culinary Hub of Providence) will open as a hybrid retail store and workforce and economic development hub. The initiative, according to the Center’s chief executive Shannon Carroll, is a natural expansion of the Center’s longstanding culinary arts program that has been a pipeline to local restaurants for decades.

But the key difference with this program, said Carroll, is that participants will get paid to learn and will experience a “real world” environment as they develop their culinary skills. Students will have knife skills training, classes in safety and sanitation, proper use of equipment, culinary math, soft skills, and participating in food production for the CHOP commissary. Carroll said they will be able to complete their Servsafe certification and work on individualized goals related to their career and financial empowerment.

“CHOP provides an opportunity for students to learn front of the house skills, menu development, supply ordering, line cook, and sous chef skills. There will be different tracks available for students based on their interest. This culinary education and training hub will create jobs, support business, and strengthen the local community by connecting residents to career opportunities,” said Carroll.


Q: Who can become a student and how much does it cost?

Carroll: Genesis Center (located in Providence’s West End neighborhood) serves families throughout the greater Providence area. A majority of our learners come from the surrounding communities, including South Providence, Elmwood, Olneyville, Hartford, and Valley.

The training program would be no cost to the students and participants would receive an hourly wage as apprentices. This paid, on-the-job training allows us to reach students who cannot afford to spend several months on training with no income.


Q: How is the program funded?

Carroll: Our programs are funded through grants both for the buildout of the space and the training program. [Funders include Anonymous, Carter Family Foundation, Champlin Foundation, City of Providence, Egavian Foundation, Governor’s Workforce Board, Jacques Pepin Foundation, Ocean State Charities Trust, and Social Enterprise Greenhouse.]

Q: When and why did the Center decide to expand its culinary program?

Carroll: We have had many conversations over the years about expanding our culinary offerings to reflect the changes in the industry and the needs and wants of our students.

When we toured the PPL renovations last year, before COVID, they mentioned wanting to open a cafe in the space. The location, timing, and synergy of missions between the PPL and Genesis Center just made sense to us. It was the perfect opportunity to explore taking our program to the next level.

Q: How does CHOP fit into the mission at the Genesis Center?

Carroll: Our mission is to provide the highest quality education, job training, and support services to people of diverse cultures so that they may achieve economic independence and participate fully in society.

Many [of Genesis Center’s adult learners] hold full-time employment or multiple part-time jobs, but they struggle to support their families with very low-income levels. Most of them have children. They struggle with the same challenges faced by most low-income individuals — unstable housing, inconsistent resources for transportation, limited resources for child care and health care, and difficulty overcoming unexpected problems or emergencies. As members of racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic minority groups, they face additional barriers to education and employment.


Q: What is the “community revitalization” part of the program?

Carroll: CHOP’s location in the PPL will assist with not only the revitalization of the downtown Providence area but also with the evolution of the local culinary and hospitality industries, which have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. CHOP’s cafe will create up to 20 new jobs in the area. Our “target community” is struggling with particularly high unemployment rates, and our work supports the immediate and long-term reduction in unemployment for our trainees.

Q: How will the menu work at CHOP?

Carroll: It will reflect the diverse community we serve. We plan to incorporate feedback and recipes from our staff and students to provide lunch and to-go items to the downtown business community. In the evening, we hope to offer cocktails and small dishes.

Q: What is the vision for CHOP?

Carroll: We hope it will serve as a community space to bring people together. We will create a space where patrons can enjoy a book and a cup of coffee — and in the evening hours, a book and glass of wine. There will also be areas for small groups to gather and a space to host events and serve as a hub. The design will be multifaceted and flexible. Parts of the training kitchen will be visible so that guests can see the workforce cafe in action.


Q: When will CHOP open?

Carroll: We are finalizing the design plans as we speak and hope to start construction this fall. Our tentative opening looks like early 2022.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.