In October, when Arc Broward and VIP guests opened a new facility, they “broke bread” rather than having a traditional ribbon cutting. It was an appropriate move for a facility that puts the organization at the front of its culinary mission.
The Andrew P. Barowksy Culinary Arts Center, home to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Innovation Kitchen, is now a space where Arc will prepare students with a range of disabilities and employment barriers for work in kitchens across Broward and beyond. According to Arc, the center includes 8,000 square feet of teaching kitchen areas, classrooms, a conference room, cooking and preparation areas, storage, refrigeration, and related commercial kitchen equipment and technology. Arc Broward for more than 60 years has provided a range of services to children and adults with various developmental and other issues.
And frankly, the new facility looks cool. That’s important for Arc’s catering side, which helps fund the program and lets members of the public see the great work that happens there.
“It is built in a way that it has screens over the cookspace so that you can watch what the chefs are doing for instructional purposes, for entertainment purposes,” president and CEO Dennis Haas says. “It has got an upscale flair to it. The reason for that is to elevate in the community’s eye what we can produce. We wanted something that would lure people here. We need to get you here to see it.”
Practically speaking, the facility mirrors what students will see in a modern kitchen. And it allows for more students. In the older kitchen and classroom, they could only squeeze in maybe 10 students at a time in a cohort. “This new space, it nearly triples and quadruples that amount,” Haas says.“We envision a huge jump in capacity for all of it.”
The journey to the new facility began all the way back in 2007.
“We decided to look at our employment programs which we had been doing back then for over 40 years,” Haas says. “We looked at ways we could improve the outcomes for individuals who needed training education and experience getting a job and embarking on a career with the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.”
They started experimenting with that in their tiny on-site kitchen. First, they needed the educational model. That took a few tries, but eventually they came up with something that worked really well.
“It was better than anything we had ever done in terms of our education employment programs,” he says. “Instead of just knocking on doors and asking employers to hire the folks we were working with because it would be a good positive thing to do from a charitable perspective, we created an accredited certificate program in culinary arts.”
Nationally accredited and licensed by the Florida Department of Education, the program quickly became sought after. This took them into the world of social enterprise, of generating funds to pay for services. They entered the catering business. For students, they also added components such as financial literacy and post-graduation mentoring. They tracked graduates’ employment and found that the success rates were off the charts.
But now, space was an issue as we ran out of space in tiny kitchen. So began a multi-year, $6m campaign to build a new state of the art catering and teaching kitchen facility. It would have space for members of the community to come and have cooking classes as well as work with students. Students could work with guests chefs. And the public could see the high quality of Arc’s catering.
“The idea of all of that is to provide more experience for our students and also generate revenue to support the program,” he says. During the pandemic, they stepped out even more, helping other nonprofits such as Covenant House and Broward Partnership for the Homeless with food services.
“We’re even doing grab-and-go sandwiches and cookies at the Museum of Discovery for some of their summer school and other programs,” Haas says. As they do all this, Haas says, they provide untold opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers. “This particular program is integrating the student population so that it’s more of a mirror image of what it’s like when they go out in the real world. We want them to work with a mixed population.”
And for these lofty goals to be realized, they needed to have the facilities.
“We found ourselves with waiting lists,” he says. “We found ourselves not being able to take on all the catering opportunities. We decided that expanding this to meet existing demand made sense.”
That said, the finished facility is more than just a sensible addition.
“When people came to this campus even before we built the culinary space, there is a wow factor because people don’t realize the magnitude of Arc Broward generally,” Haas says.
Now the culinary center blows people away. “Even I’m blown away,” he says, “and I’ve been living with building it for the past five years.”