Photos by Dana Brown
For those that desire the chance to start a new chapter in their lives the Phoenix Rescue Mission can provide that chance. The past decade has seen the dining experience in the US go through a food renaissance. With the emergence of America’s culinary maturity has come the need for a more professional and informed service industry worker. The traditional and avant garde seem to mix well with the American need for classic staples and the desire for something new.
This trend has not been lost on the program managers of Rescue Mission. A place of healing, love, perseverance, chances, and community. No story is typical, no story can describe with consistency the perils of those that struggle on the streets of Phoenix. There is a general misunderstanding as to the mechanisms that can funnel people into despair and hopelessness.
In 1952 the Phoenix Gospel Mission began. The mission grew quickly and was focused mainly on serving homeless men, as that was the overwhelming demographic at the time and remained so until recently. Now the number of younger women and families that have become homeless or ravaged by substance and physical abuse has increased and served as the seed for the Changing Lives Center.
The Changing Lives Center has a year long process for those in need to rebuild their lives through substance abuse treatment, emotional and spiritual counseling, and for lasting job skills training. The training for the food service industry couples perfectly with our modern American culinary boom. It allows someone to enter into an innovative and booming industry.
For people like Michelle R., a happy life is one that is indicative of hard work, spiritual and physical health, and the ability to give back. Michelle has a past that lead her to the Phoenix Rescue Mission and because of Changing Lives Center and the strength she found, she was given a bright future. Michelle, now one of the head chefs, also manages Mission Possible’s Catering service and teaches others. Mission Possible is the umbrella program that incorporates the Mission Possible Cookies, Mission Possible Catering, and on October 3rd, the Mission Possible Cafe.
One person that has been instrumental in the inception of the Possible Mission Cafe is Nicole Pena, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Rescue Mission. Nicole became involved with the Phoenix Rescue Mission because of the people she met and situations she witnessed while working at the Maricopa County Court.
The Possible Mission Cookies and Catering services were a good start and many that have come through the program have been recruited by other restaurants. Nicole and Michelle both mentioned that when graduates come back to tell their tales of success and newfound pride, they swell with emotion. Every success story is fuel for them to keep doing what they are doing.
The Cafe will open to the public serving breakfast and lunch. The location is at the former location of the Phoenix landmark Oaxaca Restaurant which closed in 2013. When the location opened up for purchase the Rescue Mission jumped at the opportunity to acquire the building.
One thing both Nicole and Michelle are confident about is the menu. When I asked both about the menu it seemed like they slipped into a comfort zone. The menu was designed primarily by the staff and students of the program and will be a Southwest and Mexican cuisine. In addition to our standard regional comfort food the designers decided to shift to a more healthy version of the traditional dishes. Using lean proteins and limiting the amount of frying and added fats this menu is poised to both fulfill your cravings and leave you with less guilt. Add to that a blend of traditional and innovative Mexican spices to drive the flavors and make every dish memorable and they're onto something good.
When Nicole was showing me around she gestured where the bar was previously located and told me two words that will bring joy to the world: Enchilada Bar. If that doesn’t get you excited, I’m not sure what will!
The operations of the Cafe will be supported by both the men and women of the program with mentorship from the Hospitality Management Program from Grand Canyon University. Training in these areas will be conducted while the Cafe is open and serving, so expect to notice a good number of people available for service.
Building a better community starts with seeing the problems and acknowledging the best ways to deal with them. It's easy and often our instinctual reaction to turn away from a homeless person asking for help. This feeling stems from fear and helplessness. We fear things we don’t understand and feel helpless against the overwhelming issues.