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Café to Convert Gangsters to Chefs

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The café is an offshoot of the Fresh Start Job Training and Development Program, a decade-old nonprofit that helps the unemployed learn job skills and find work. Fresh Start runs a GED program and a food-service training program at Richmond Christian Center on Cowardin Avenue.

But now, thanks to a partnership with the Gang Reduction and Intervention Program of the Office of the Attorney General, the Richmond Technical Center's night apprentice program and the Richmond Adult Career Development Center, a portion of Fresh Start's food-service program is moving to Jackson Ward.

Sandra Sykes, founder and executive director of Fresh Start, says as many as four gang members, or those deemed potential gang members, will participate in the culinary mentoring program each year. Likewise, others interested in a food-service career or the culinary arts may be eligible to learn the restaurant trade through a six-week internship at the trade centers followed by work at the F S 2 Street Café. "We'll provide the training and we'll assist with placement," Sykes says.

Since its inception a decade ago, Fresh Start has helped more than 3,000 people get training, find jobs or attain their GED, Sykes says. Ninety percent of the program's members are from low-income families, and most have criminal records and little education.

"Our members aren't just about dollars and cents," they're about people such as Sykes and programs that equip and enable commerce to grow, says Oliver Singleton, executive director of the Metropolitan Business League. The league owns the building where the café will be located.

Sykes envisions the program as a kind of clearinghouse for food-service employment opportunities around downtown Richmond. The café will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mostly healthy cuisine will be featured, including grilled chicken, tuna and salmon as well as veggie burgers. But there will be some homemade soul food, too, Sykes says, such as liver and onions, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese. S

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