Forging The Way For Community Impact In The Hartford Region
With job training programs, opportunities for food access, and a seasonal farmers market, Hartford-based Forge City Works creates sustainable social enterprises and uses food as an educational and community-building tool. Ordering food or catering from The Kitchen Café helps underwrite Forge City Works’ on-the-job culinary training and food access programs.
Andy Perri, Executive Chef at The Kitchen Café, spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the impact Forge City Works and The Kitchen make in the Hartford Region.
NAN PRICE: In your words, what is The Kitchen?
ANDY PERRI: It’s a café that creates life-changing opportunities for individuals around the city. It’s also a place that adds to the vibrancy of Hartford—through the café, the affiliated farmers market, and the opportunities we provide.
NAN: Tell us a little about the evolution of Forge City Works and The Kitchen.
ANDY: Sadly, our Founding Executive Director Cary Wheaton recently passed away. Her biggest goal for this organization was to create racial equity in the hospitality and restaurant industry. It’s something we’ve always focused on as an organization, but it’s become even more of a focus now, going forward, as we hire a new director and add some new board members.
Forge City Works (formerly Billings Forge Community Works) was founded 12 years ago, with the support of The Melville Charitable Trust. The mission is to create job opportunities in the Frog Hollow area of Hartford.
One of the ways we try and do that is through a six- to 12-week culinary training program that’s held at The Kitchen Café. The program is for individuals 18 years and older who have barriers to employment, such as poverty, homelessness, coming out of rehab, or those who were formerly incarcerated. We offer a café customer service training for Opportunity Youth that prepares young people who aren’t working or in school with workplace skills and then we place them in a first internship or job. Individuals in our programs typically have a hard time finding good-paying employment, so it’s our job to give them job skills to help them find their version of success.
NAN: Is the overall goal to retain individuals or encourage them to exit out of the program and find their own opportunities?
ANDY: Participants are encouraged to exit the program and succeed outside Forge City Works; sometimes we have opportunities to keep folks on. But the overarching goal is to get them back into the workforce and help them get jobs with livable wages. We have an 85% success rate—which means 85% of the individuals we’ve served through the program are still working good-paying jobs in the community.
NAN: Do you collaborate with other organizations?
ANDY: We’re a member of the Catalyst Kitchens Network, which is a social impact initiative of FareStart. Their goals align with ours: changing lives with food, life skills, and job training. Through the network, we connect with dozens of other organizations like us. We collaborate by talking about what’s working well, sharing information, and feeding off of one another. It’s been very inspiring to make those connections.
NAN: Let’s talk about your role as executive chef and culinary trainer.
ANDY: It’s definitely one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had. It’s actually making a difference in someone’s life. It’s uplifting to hear our program graduates talk about how much the program has helped them—not just by giving them a career path, but improving them as individuals, supporting them, and giving them the confidence to succeed.