MIDDLETOWN – After years of renovations to the historic building it now calls home, Mill Street Café opened for business in Middletown this summer. The site is administered by anti-poverty nonprofit Regional Economic Community Action Program, and is modeled after their Fresh Start Café job readiness program whose participants are typically long-term public assistance recipients who learn skills to succeed in the service industry. Training participants for the Mill Street Café will typically be drawn from several sources within RECAP as well as agencies and the community at large. The success of participants is largely due to the mentorship and leadership from the women who oversee the café’s operations including purchasing, scheduling, customer service, and job development and readiness.
Charlene, Justine, Melida, Christine & Sharon work with trainees across RECAP’s three training sites: Mill Street Café in Middletown, Fresh Start Café in Newburgh, and the training kitchen at HONORehg homeless shelter in Middetown.
Charlene Woodson, Training & Services Manager
Every day: Trainee case management and advancing the program through public relations and outreach.
Background: Experience in the culinary industry, human services and job readiness through restaurant and business management as well as working for private country clubs, event halls and cruise liners. Outside of the café she owns an event service business.
On the job: I was in the supermarket and I ran into one of my former clients and she told me how much better she was doing since being in the cafe program. Although she wasn’t happy when she first started the program, she said I had a positive impact. She learned that a single minority mother could hold herself to a higher standard, be well-spoken and hard working, and have the satisfaction of providing for her children on her own.
Favorite Mill Street Café entree: The entire menu! Especially the Mill Burger.
Justine Figueroa, Executive Chef
Every day: Prepare baked goods, prep food for breakfast and lunch, ensurefood safety.
Background: Certification from Orange-Ulster BOCES for culinary arts and worked for local establishments including Billy Joe’s Ribworks and Price Chopper before starting work with trainees at RECAP’s Fresh Start Café in Newburgh.
On the job: I ran into a former trainee in New Windsor who ended up not entering the culinary field, but said the program changed her home life and how she approaches food. She now has the resources to cook for herself and stopped spending money on outside food. She learned how to choose ingredients, make recipes, and plan menus at home that help her maintain a healthy diet.
Favorite Mill Street Café entrée: The Mafia sandwich, “a taste of Italy in a sandwich,” that joins together chicken cutlet, fresh baby spinach roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese sandwiched between garlic style multigrain bread with tomato dipping sauce and house made potato chips.
Melida Lopez, Job Developer
Every day: Assist trainees with resumes and cover letters, scheduling job interviews and transportation.
Background: Also works with clients at RECAP’s Newburgh Services office and Fresh Start Café in Newburgh.
On the job: A moment I will never forget is when a trainee told me, “If it wasn’t for you I would not have gotten this job.” I took him to a walk-in interview at a local warehouse where at least eight other applicants were waiting in the room. All of them were called in for a group interview, except my trainee who was called in separately. Afterwards he was offered a position that he was over qualified for. He was surprised and confused and sad that he wasn’t given the same opportunity as the rest of the group. We were about to leave but I asked to speak with a hiring manager and I explained why my client and I thought he was being discriminated against because he was Spanish. I told the manager how he should be considered based on his work experience and the conversation ended with an offer for the position he was hoping for. When I gave him the news he couldn’t believe it and thanked me for advocating on his behalf.
Favorite Mill Street Café entrée: The Mafia
Christine Cordero Lazar, Mill Street Cafe Operations Manager
Every day: Oversees day to day operations including sales, inventory, marketing, skills development and mentoring .
Background: Over 10 years experiencewith RECAP includingadministrative roles in supportive housing, facilities and maintenance operations.
On the job: Our Newburgh café hired a participant after she finished her training period. To see her journey from the start and see where she is whyI love what I do. She has always been a part of the team!Mill Street Cafe is another long-awaited excitement and by far the best experience in my career. It’s a new and different project but our creative and experienced team continues the same mission of strengthening our community. We had fun creating the “Craft and Quality” menu theme and look forward to incorporating local artists for a seasonal gallery in the space. The vibe and ambiance of the cafe call for artistic creations!
Favorite Mill Street Café entrée: Have you tried Chef Justine’s food?! I’ll make it simple: a toasted, buttered homemade biscuit is something I’ll take any time of day! Also, just about any flavor chicken wings.
Sharon Delgado, Front End Manager
Every day: Work with participants in the kitchen at HONORehg homeless shelter in Middletown as they learn to take food orders, develop menus, learn customer service, and maintaininventory and safety.
Background: Over 10 years with RECAP, experience in a school cafeteria, and roles as fill-in food service worker in the kitchen at HONORehg shelter in Middletown.
On the job: I helped the café move from its former location in the community campus into HONOR shelter in 2012. The kitchen not only serves all of the shelter’s meals, but is a community space staff use for parties, special events, and coffee and fresh fruit throughout the day. It’s a community area for residents who can’t get out to work. I’ve seen our trainees find jobs at locallarge-scale food service facilities such as HONOR, Braemar Living, and schools. I’m excited to see the program’s growth and success, as well as meet all the people we serve through teaching, our catering contracts, and customer service.
Favorite Mill Street Café entrée:Everything Justine makes is delicious. One of my favorites is her garlic parmesan wings.
The café anchors a historic 3-story 1875 brick building that is part of the Mill at Middletown complex which began renovation in 2015. The building, which formerly housed the manufacture of hats and furniture, and was spared demolition and now houses 15 housing units. A new connected 4-story addition holds 27 more apartments.
The café serves breakfast, lunch, coffee, soups, and baked goods. It is open Monday-Friday, 8:00am-3:00pm. Delivery is available and menus are at www.recap.org/cafe or by calling 845-421-6275.
About the Program
Fresh Start Café job readiness program began in 2008 as a culinary training program for people on public assistance and currently operates at two locations. The approach has grown from culinary job training to a job readiness program which utilizes an operating café as the setting to teach concepts and skills which can be adapted to any opening in the service economy. In addition to culinary skills, trainers focus on soft skills such as teamwork, customer service, time management, presentation and organizational skills, and introduced resume, interviewing and budgeting classes to prepare participants to seek and maintainemployment.
Building off this successful model, RECAP created Mill Street Café which is open to the public. The café helps offset the funding shortages experienced by social welfare organizations while expanding on the training and services inspired by its Fresh Start Café program. Visit Mill Street Café at 34 Mill Street in Middletown. The café is open Monday-Friday, 8:00am-3:00pm. Delivery is available soon and menus are available at www.recap.org/cafe or by calling 845-421-6275.