Corporate Catering for a Cause

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

Pine Street Inn, the largest resource for homeless men and women in New England, has created a social enterprise catering business called iCater.

iCater represents one of the two social enterprises run by the Pine Street Inn. iCater offers high-quality catered food to the Boston corporate marketplace. Boston Handyworks represents the second Pine Street Inn social enterprise, offering quality repair and maintenance services at competitive prices in and around Boston.

These two business operations are comprised of staff and students from the Pine Street Inn workforce development training programs. They include the Food Service Training Program (FSTP) and the Building Maintenance Training Program (BMTP). Each of these instructional programs teaches both professional vocational skills and social skills needed to find and maintain employment.

Pine Street Inn has just started a third workforce development training program in housekeeping. The housekeeping program trains people to work in the hotel and health care fields.

Pine Street’s Food Service Training Program trains approximately 100 men and women a year to work in the food service industry. iCater, which is a FSTP division, consists of a two-tier training program; culinary training followed by personal life skills. The program members get kitchen training in the first part of the day and in the afternoon attend life skills classes at the Pine Street Inn’s Harrison Avenue location. The 24-week program covers culinary topics like sanitation, knife skills, cooking along with personal interviewing and household budgeting.

“All Pine Street training programs fall under workforce development,” Executive Chef Frank van Overbeeke said.

According to Chef van Overbeeke, Pine Street Inn has been involved in institutional food service for the past decade, working with shelters and detox programs. These programs needed someone to prepare food because they may have limited or no kitchen facilities. Van Overbeeke pointed out that the original food service focus was traditional hot and cold food.

The development of iCater permanently changed Pine Street Inn’s food service program. The new program provides a culinary job training program in partnership with a corporate catering business. The catering business has successfully provides a revenue stream to support the Food Service Job Training program. This culinary enterprise brings in $1 million a year to support the program.

iCater also prepares and delivers meals for a fee to non-profit clients throughout Boston.

Pine Street Inn’s food service trainees receive increased exposure to food service preparation and increased collaboration with the agencies staff. The trainees prepare food for Pine Street’s cafeteria and agency programs along with the catering dishes for iCater clients.

This program pays the trainees a minimum wage to prepare meals for shelter residents and catering clients.

“It is entry-level training,” van Overbeeke said. “We are not training them to do wedding cakes. But we can definitely train them to make sandwiches.”

Van Overbeeke highlighted iCater’s marketing focus.

“We work with three groups of catering clients,” van Overbeeke said. “We work with traditional corporations, hospitals, and local universities.”

Van Overbeeke stated that all iCater orders are dropped off to the individual clients. The chef elaborated that that they prepare a wide range of catering including breakfasts, lunches and evening events.

iCater does not use donated food for its catering enterprise. iCater prepares about 1,000 meals a day for its institutional and corporate clients.

iCater takes new students into the culinary training program every eight weeks. Prospective students must fill out an application and are required to go through an interview with iCater staff as two of the program’s guidelines. There is also a waiting list for new students. New student population is made up of people from Pine Street Inn and also referrals from outside transitional housing and social service agencies located in metro Boston. The student population for the FSTP and iCater includes men and women.

The training program includes demonstrations by chefs from a variety of local food service corporations. Legal Sea Foods, Ninety-Nine Restaurants and the food service company Sodexo conduct trainings focusing of culinary skills development.

Chef van Overbeeke commented that three-fourths of program graduates get jobs or continue culinary training outside of the program.

Pine Street Inn is hoping to double the size of the catering business and increase the size of its training program in the near future.

For more information on Pine Street Inn ‘s Food Service Training Program (FSTP) access the link under programs: http://www.pinestreetinn.org/programs_education.php.

For iCater access the link under Social Enterprises: http://www.pinestreetinn.org/social_enterprise_iCater.php

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer and vendor. Robert has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service, (CPCS). Robert also minored in Urban Planning and Advocacy. Currently Robert is the Executive Director of the Nutrition Education Outreach Project.

PHOTO/PINE STREET INN

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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