By Taneen Momeni
The windows of the ground floor of the six-story building on Sarvis Avenue are covered with the smiling faces of chefs and patrons, obscuring the construction on the inside of the building. Words like “health and wellness programs” and “culinary arts training” are sprinkled arbitrarily on each of the photos. Large sunglasses cover one of the wider windows, with holes smaller than the lenses cut out of the picture, allowing for curious passersby to take a peek inside.
Through the lenses, community members can view the new Sarvis Cafe and Empowerment Center that is scheduled to open February 2020 in Riverdale Park, Maryland, after nearly three years of construction and planning.
The cafe specializes in serving healthy breakfast and lunch, while working with Prince George’s Community College to provide a culinary and customer service training program and jobs, according to the cafe’s website.
“We feel that the Sarvis Cafe will be a change agent for the community here,” said Patricia Hayes-Parker, executive director of Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Development Corporation. “It definitely will also positively affect not only the individuals who are taking the classes, but also the families.”
The cafe is owned and operated by CKAR, but has partners such as Kaiser Permanente, PGCC and the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and School of Business that support it. The UMD partners were contacted, but declined to comment.
Students who enroll in the culinary course at PGCC will receive a certificate from the college, according to CKAR spokesperson Jeanette Mitchell.
“There will be classroom training here at CKAR, and then there will be hands-on training at the cafe,” Mitchell said.
The active and immersive training in the kitchen at the cafe is seen as the lab for the class and will allow them to work with their mentors, according to Hayes-Parker.
One qualification needed to enroll in the 14-week culinary course at the college and the cafe is to be a resident of the communities they serve, which includes Riverdale Park, Riverdale Heights and East Riverdale, according to Mitchell. The course is not limited to the members of those communities; however, those residents will get first priority in the courses, Mitchell said.
The program aims to train 45 chefs a year, according to Mitchell. The students will train side-by-side with professional chefs who work in the kitchen at Sarvis Cafe, Hayes-Parker said.
“In addition to culinary arts training, there will be diverse and intergenerational programming in the adjacent patio, so we will have guest chefs that will appear once a month,” she said.
The lessons in the patio near the cafe will occasionally include other programs on health and wellness, to emphasize the “live well, eat well” operations of the cafe, according to Hayes-Parker.
After the training and mentoring at PGCC and Sarvis Cafe, CKAR will conduct job searches for students completing the program, according to the Sarvis Cafe website.
The possible job locations where the students will be placed include local restaurants, eateries and food establishments that would hire chefs, said Mitchell. The end goal of the program is that students will desire to find employment, she said, which will cut out transportation costs and allow for more accessibility to get to work.
CKAR, the non-profit developer of the Sarvis Cafe project, will hire a chef manager and other professionals to work in the cafe, according to Hayes-Parker.
“CKAR is involved in workforce training, and we feel that [this project] is an aspect of workforce training,” she said. “Its mission is to promote environmental sustainability, economic growth, workforce training and business development.”
The cafe is not active in other locations, and it is the first of its kind in the culinary community in Riverdale Park because of the many different aspects of the operations of the cafe, said Hayes-Parker.
The cafe was originally set to open in the fall, but due to a delay in permitting and construction, the opening is scheduled for February of next year, according to Hayes-Parker.
Although the opening has not occurred, CKAR and other partners of the project are discussing the future and how to scale the total operation, Hayes-Parker declined to further discuss the plans.
CKAR provides English for Speakers of Other Languages training in order to prepare non-English speaking residents of Riverdale Park to partake in the culinary arts training at Sarvis Cafe.
“We have a diverse community, and about 51% immigrant, so we want to continue to run the ESOL training because if someone wants to take the culinary arts training, they really should have some capability and understanding of English,” Hayes-Parker said.
Sheri Mattes Wake, a resident of Riverdale Park, was previously unfamiliar with the cafe and the programs it provides, but she was impressed with the plans for the cafe and the college course.
“I think the cafe sounds like a wonderful business model to encourage personal and career growth for the participants and will be a great addition to the community,” she said. “I would definitely visit the cafe, I try to support our local businesses as much as possible.”
Hayes-Parker believes that Sarvis Cafe will bring the entire community together, regardless of age, and the programs will give an opportunity for people to come to the cafe, be involved and gather as a community.
“I’d love for people to come and visit Sarvis Cafe, and enjoy the well-prepared food and conversation with friends and neighbors and new people that they may meet,” she said.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Sarvis Cafe Facebook page.
Taneen Momeni is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.