Old Skool Café (1429 Mendell Street) is fairly unique as restaurants go. The 1940s-themed supperclub and non-profit restaurant is the brainchild of Teresa Goines, and it’s the result of several years of fundraising and program-building with a group of at-risk and previously incarcerated young people ages 16 to 22. The kids serve as chefs, waitstaff, and entertainers, and they’re all paid for their work and meanwhile get apprenticeships in restaurant management, perfoming, and cooking. The place just officially opened for business last week, and is now open Thursday through Saturday, with dinner and a show each night. The full, a la carte menu is here.
There’s a documentary in progress about the making of Old Skool Café, which we have for you below. Goines, who for years worked in gang-prevention and as a counselor for boys in juvenile detention, says that she came around to the idea that she needed to create a place where these kids could get jobs and job training and learn a sense of responsibility before going out into the world. “They were failed [by their parents] as young people, these kids. So why are they going to be punished the rest of their lives?” she says. She set about creating a non-profit business where she would not only be able to hire and pay these kids, but also continue to serve a community that has been so deeply affected by violence and the cycle of crime.
She’s also gotten professional chefs around town to donate their time to help coach and train the kitchen staff. Ian Marks, chef at Beast and the Hare, recently helped guide the kids through the restaurant’s opening gala. “It was a lot of fun,” he tells Grub Street. “I developed a dinner with the kids and we made the whole thing together. The kids really get into it.”
Goines explained to the Chronicle back in 2008 why she chose the 1940s as a theme: “Back in the day, everyone dressed up. Even if you didn’t have a lot, you were feeling and looking sharp. I love that era; I think it’s super classy. I think it’s fun to go out to a place that’s got a theme to it.”
You can see the calendar of performers here, and reserve a table here. Note that they’re open only three nights a week, 5:30 to 9:30. Goines’s plan all along has been to have a six-night-a-week venue, but the expanded schedule is still in the works. And, if you can’t make it in for dinner, feel free to donate to the cause.
Cora Jean’s Old Skool Café - 1429 Mendell Street - 415.822.8531 - Open Thursday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.