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Culinary training program Food Jobs Work aids struggling Arkansans

by Andrew Moreau | September 26, 2021 at 2:17 a.m.

Food Jobs Work, a North Little Rock culinary workforce training program, is reigniting efforts to place at-risk adults and youth in food-and-beverage jobs in Central Arkansas.

The nonprofit initiative has a successful track record of developing work-ready skills for Arkansans who have troubled backgrounds that could lead employers to reject them for jobs. Food Jobs Work also reinforces life-skills training that increases opportunities for the participants to get a second chance.

The program is a collaboration with Our House shelter, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Little Rock Workforce Investment Board/Rock City Re-entry program.

Food Jobs Work is Arkansas' only member of Catalyst Kitchens, a national organization dedicated to empowering at-risk individuals through culinary workforce training. Catalyst Kitchens provides workshops and technical assistance to organizations that train individuals with barriers for employment in the food-service industry.

Last month, Food Jobs Work graduated its 11th cohort after a six-week training program. At graduation, students are presented with the knives they used in the class. Participants are drilled in sanitation, knife skills and learn how to saute, among other training. The program has graduated 88 trainees of the 96 originally enrolled in the cohorts.

The initiative also focuses on soft-skills training in areas such as motivation and communication so students understand the positive attitude they will need to be effective on the job and work cooperatively with colleagues.

"This program is more than about training food-service workers," said founder Christie Ison. "It's about ... getting rid of self-limiting thoughts and behaviors so individuals can start to believe in themselves again."

Little Rock restaurateur Scott McGhee, who owns and operates several restaurants in the city, has hired Food Jobs Work graduates and says trainees are prepared to step into jobs in the industry.

Trainees help produce a commercial hummus product, branded Comeback Kitchen, that is sold at area farmers markets in Argenta in North Little Rock, Bramble Market and the White Water Tavern market among others. Comeback Kitchen hummus also is available at retailers such as the Green Corner Store and Stratton's Market at Dugan's Pub. Proceeds benefit Food Jobs Work.

Now, Ison has focused on reorganizing how the organization is chartered to make it more attractive for foundations and other investors that can enhance training efforts going forward. She is working to change Food Jobs Work to a public charity designation by the IRS.

More information is available at


Three Little Rock minority-owned businesses and one mentor were recognized last week for their contributions to business development in Central Arkansas. The awards were given Monday during the Minority Business Awards Luncheon, which celebrated the 39th annual minority enterprise development week.

The event honors the diversity of the Little Rock regional business community and recognizes minority business leaders that excel in their field.

Plush Homes Co. Realtors won emerging business of the year; K Scott Consults was business of the year; J Kelly Referrals was honored as legacy business of the year; and Kim Vu-Dinh with the University of Little Rock Arkansas Bowen School of Law was awarded business mentor of the year.

Minority enterprise development week was designated by presidential proclamation in 1983 to promote the achievements and contributions of minority-owned businesses.


Winrock International has received a $900,000 grant from the center for racial equity to provide business development support to Black-owned e-commerce and wholesale retail enterprises in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The grant comes at a critical time. Recent studies have shown that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic disproportionately harmed Black and other minority-owned businesses across the United States, in part because they have more difficulty securing business loans than nonminority-owned enterprises.

Winrock said it will use the funds to help business owners seek, prepare for and tap into new sources of capital to sustain and expand their businesses.

"Many businesses have experienced hardship during the pandemic, but Black-owned small businesses in the South's retail sector have been hit especially hard," said Linsley Kinkade, Winrock's senior director of U.S. Programs. "With funding from Walmart, Winrock's readying small businesses for access to capital program directly responds to some of the most urgent needs of Black-owned businesses reeling from covid."

The funding will increase Winrock's efforts to connect entrepreneurs to potential loan, grant and investment opportunities.


Westrock Coffee Co. is promising to make sure that 100% of its coffee and tea will be responsibly sourced by 2025. Today about 61% of Westrock's coffee and tea is responsibly sourced across 35 farming origins.

"While our hands-on approach to working with our farmer partners and customers remains the same, we are humbled by the opportunity to expand this across 173 million pounds of coffee and tea globally," said Matt Smith, Westrock Coffee's executive vice president of supply chain and sustainability efforts.

Westrock Coffee is building a global supplier assurance framework in partnership with the Committee on Sustainable Assessment and the British Standards Institution to reach the 100% goal. The program will audit its entire supplier network for compliance with Westrock Coffee's responsible sourcing policy.

Westrock will deploy more personnel in key supply chains to quantify the social, environmental, and entrepreneurial impact of coffee and tea at origin.

"Westrock Coffee exemplifies how business, with a strong commitment and the right tools, can be a significant agent of positive change," says committee President Daniele Giovannucci. "These efforts to drive transparency in the pursuit of more ethical and more sustainable supply chains not only provide new customer value, but also advance the coffee industry as a whole."

Westrock said the sustainability effort is part of its commitment to buy and process all products in a manner that is fair to the people who grow and handle it, their employees, peers and environments.

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