This Food Startup Is Changing the Face of Its Community

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Since launching in 2015, The Town Kitchen has delivered 100,000 meals to offices in the Bay Area. The offerings are what you’d expect from a lunch delivery service catering to Silicon Valley clientele: Items like vegan quinoa bowls, summer salads, and seared tuna rotate through the menu on a seasonal basis. But it’s what’s going on behind the scenes that’s attracting national attention.

CEO Sabrina Mutukisna co-founded The Town Kitchen as a way to provide job opportunities to at-risk youth. The Oakland-based kitchen is staffed with local workers aged 15 to 25 who face disadvantages that can make it difficult for them to follow traditional career paths. Many of the business’s employees come from foster homes or served time in prison.

A job at The Town Kitchen not only provides average wages of $15.65 an hour—a paycheck well above the national average for food-service workers—but career-building resources as well. The business partners with San Francisco State University to offer workforce training programs to its staff members, and collaborates with local organizations aimed at tackling related employment hurdles such as housing and transportation. Today, 90 percent of The Town Kitchen’s workforce is also working toward a college degree.

The youth program is just one way the company gives back to the Bay Area. The ingredients that go into their artisanal boxed lunches come from local establishments founded by women and/or people of color. And as part of the partnership, providers agree to hire employees from The Town Kitchen’s career program.

The Bay Area is an appropriate setting for the experiment: High housing costs and a competitive job market prevent many low-skill workers from climbing out of poverty. Mutukisna plans to bring the concept to Seattle next and eventually set up kitchens in every major city in the U.S.