A project to create Jackson’s first workforce training restaurant for at-risk youth is coming to life in West Jackson.
Refill Cafe, called a “holistic approach to training,” will occupy the former Koinonia Coffeehouse, founded by Lee Harper, near Jackson State University.
The café’s mission, “to empower youth by providing an innovative and holistic job training and life skills program,” will be lead by Fondren-based Soul City Hospitality’s Grady Griffin and Nick Wallace and Jordan Butler through a new non-profit, Southern Artisan Training Institute.
Refill Café is being born out of a group at nearby St. Andrew’s Cathedral who began work nearly eight years ago on a plan to open a workforce training café in Jackson. The group was inspired by the success of similar initiatives such as Café Reconcile and Liberty Kitchen in New Orleans and Café Climb on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Over a period of years, the group developed a preliminary plan while looking for a site near the downtown cathedral. The group secured some initial funding but was never able to lock down a site. The project was revived a couple of years ago when one of the group’s original members, Griffin, took the concept to his partners at Soul City —a business focused on developing infrastructure for Mississippi’s local food system. The partners decided the appropriate vehicle for this project would be a new non-profit organization that would focus exclusively on training and developing the needed workforce within a revitalized food system.
In Koinonia’s former location – and with their original focus of uniting community, facilitating information exchange and providing jobs in mind, Refill Cafe will operate a vibrant restaurant and retail establishment with training stations to develop functional competencies and occupational skills for program participants. The project plans to offer social service support, educational support, mentoring, and employment services—all offered either directly through Refill Café or indirectly through a partner. The program will be a long-term anchor for participants as Refill Café helps place them into internships and jobs around the City of Jackson.
“We are thankful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for seeding us with a planning grant, and are now working diligently on all the pieces/parts to make this come to fruition,” said Jeff Good, a partner in Soul City Hospitality. “We have a year’s worth of work ahead of us before the first meal is served.”
But the grant won’t be enough. Good said the group will rely on community support to fund start-up expenses, various organizational expenses and maintenance needs.
“We can use some small donations to help with our power bill, our property insurance, our grounds. upkeep, and all the little things that have to be paid while you are building something miraculous,” Good added, noting “small amounts pooled together produce big results.”
Refill Café hopes to open in fall 2018.