Profile: Cafe Options: A new way to bake a living.

Published November 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 10

text and photos by D. Giles Clasen

Women working at Cafe Options

The word non-profit rarely carries thoughts of pizzazz.  When the word is combined with restaurant, our minds may drift to something more akin to a soup kitchen than a fine cafe. But Cafe Options is a delicatessen downtown that has managed to combine non-profit with fine-food.

The restaurant, located at 1650 Curtis St., is a place where customers receive smoked meats, pickles and mustard all prepared from scratch. They give downtown diners a different option than many of the chain eateries along the 16th Street Mall.  It also provides the opportunity for a small staff of low-income women to develop precious job experience as well as job skills as prep cooks.

For Georgelene Godfrey, the cafe is an escape from her previous career as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
“I couldn’t do that job any longer,” Godfrey said.  “It was too hard on my body, too hard on my back.”
Godfrey sees Cafe Options as more than a career change, though.  It is a life change.  She sees herself as a more successful single mother now.  She is home when her three children get home from school.  Her training has even changed her family’s diet to a healthier dinner.

But before Godfrey or any of the other women are able to work at Cafe Options they must first complete a 16-week culinary school course at Work Options for Women.

Work Options for Women was developed as a job-training program for women who have little to no work experience.  It also is a place for individuals who have not completed high school to develop a trade that can give them the opportunity to take care of their family financially.

“We have a lot of people in this community who are extremely poor, who have never had opportunities for education and I think it is our responsibility to figure out how we should help,” Toni Schmid, the executive director of WOW said.  “And how do we do that as a community?”

Schmid believes that one answer to this question is through training women to work as prep cooks.  Her answer may seem simple, but it gives graduates the skills to work jobs that pay higher than minimum wage and the opportunity for advancement.

More importantly, the women involved in the program talked about how the process helped them on a personal level.

Gayle DunkenGayle Dunken, the pastry chef at Cafe Options and graduate of WOW, said that her new ability to bake sweets gave her the opportunity to share her love of cooking with others.

“Everybody loves sweets,” Dunken Said. “It makes people happy to eat them and I like to see people enjoy what I have made.”

Dunken also finds a great deal of pride in being able to help her family now that she has steady employment.
Schmid has great passion for teaching women their new trade and giving them the opportunity to change their lives, as many of the women at Cafe Options have done.

“The people we work with are the people who are forgotten about,” Schmid says.  “They are not people government is making policy around or throwing money at to help.”

Schmid said bluntly that WOW and Cafe Options functions on the idea that, “Everyone has a right to work.”
“We’re an incredibly wealthy nation and there is still a whole group of people in our communities that live in poverty,” she said.

Zoie Keast, the assistant manager at Cafe Options spoke equally passionately about training individuals to succeed in the work place.

She was most encouraged, though, by the interest the women bring to Cafe Options.

“A lot of the women have a lot of interest in the culinary arts,” Keast said.  “It is an interesting combination that brings people to this program.  It is a mix of people with personality and need.”

Dunken showed this attitude.  She spoke almost exclusively about her interest in her work. 

“This is a job where I receive a lot of personal care from the combination of labor versus the intellectual and fine skills I am using,” Dunken said.

“It gives me a sense of accomplishment every day,  though it is now a treat to have someone cook for me,” she said.