Community Spotlight: Light House Bistro
Dishing Out Hope
In 1989, Annapolis’s major homeless shelter – the Christian Workers Soup Kitchen – burned to the ground. Amidst the flames and tragedy, a huge gap in homeless housing and care arose. As a result,local churches banded together in a collaborative effort to establish the Light House, a new shelter and recovery center for the citizens of Maryland’s capital.
To many, this name is familiar; over 25 years later, the Light House is thriving as one of Annapolis’s largest homeless centers. Each year its services expand and 2017 was no different. On February 27th of this year, Light House Bistro reinvented the relationship between business and the homeless by recruiting its homeless residents to be the restaurant’s employees.
This landmark business now serves the homeless not only food but skills training. Each of its 47 employees is graduates of the shelter’s culinary program and have never worked as servers before. Many are homeless and every single one needs a second chance at a future.
And that is what the Light House Bistro provides. “All of the restaurant’s dishes are made from scratch and include basic techniques that the chefs can take to their next jobs, like how to poach different ingredients and make a vinaigrette,” said executive chef Beth Rocca.
In addition, the bistro extensively trains servers and bussers to prepare them for every possible customer services scenario. Each employee can take these skills and transfer them to other culinary and hospitality opportunities, thereby diversifying the workforce, preventing repeat homelessness, and transforming the Annapolis community.
Without a strong community, the Light House Bistro wouldn’t have been possible in the first place. Not only was the organization originally developed by a community of churches, it also took $200,000 in funding from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to start construction on the Bistro two years ago. The site also plays an important role: 202 West Street is where the Levy’s Grocery Store used to stand, an iconic 1930s store that brought customers and residents of the town together.
Collected resources and communal drive is what turns a tragedy into rebirth. The 1989 Soup Kitchen fire may have caused devastation, but the citizens of the city quickly established the space and resources necessary to keep the homeless alive and safe. With the Light House Bistro, that community has gone beyond to develop skilled workers and create vocational opportunities.
Now, the only flames on West Street are those lapping the sides of a pan to sear tarragon shrimp and brighten the future of the homeless. Here’s to the hope that it catches on in other cities.
Light House Bistro
202 West Street
Annapolis, MD 21401