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Community Kitchen plans to leave Hazelwood in 2025 | The Homepage

Two people in a kitchen chop veg and a person in a chef's uniform looks on.
Community Kitchen Pittsburgh culinary trainees practice knife skills while prepping ingredients as an instructor looks on. Photo by Juliet Martinez

The culinary training program and home of popular Lenten fish fry plans move to a bigger space in Uptown

By Juliet Martinez, managing editor

When it comes to feeding hungry people, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s founder and executive director Jennifer Flanagan knows you need to adapt quickly.

On June 6, she was helping coordinate 180 breakfasts, lunches and dinners for people displaced by a fire at Second Avenue Commons on June 5. One of the nonprofit’s kitchens is in the low-barrier shelter, but it sustained water damage.

To compensate, the organization’s main facility at 107 Flowers Ave. added more than 500 daily meals to the 2,000 it normally produces. The food in the Second Avenue Commons kitchen had to be moved as well, but the cold storage at headquarters was full.

This is only one example of why the food and workforce development enterprise is planning to move.

The nonprofit has called the Spahr Building at Second and Flowers avenues home for the past six years and once thought it could be a permanent home. But growth is prompting a planned move to Uptown next year. The new, single-story facility will be at least a third bigger and offer the chance to expand and formalize recently added training programs.

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh offers catering for business meetings, schools, and city and county agencies. They deliver daily meals to shelters and community meal locations. They also run a food truck and offer luxury catering, as well as seasonal offerings like Thanksgiving sides. The people planning, prepping and cooking those meals are getting career training and wraparound support to help them overcome barriers to employment.

A relatively recent addition to the organization’s programming is the butchery training program. Ms. Flanagan said they are seeking a USDA grant of inspection, but the federal agency will not approve them because of the limitations of their current space. To take wheeled racks holding sides of beef to the second-floor classroom, they must be covered and taken outside to reach the elevators.

“There are stairs in the back of the kitchen,” Ms. Flanagan said. “We have to take things outside, and the USDA will say ‘absolutely not.’”

But renovating to get USDA approval, expanding production space to accommodate their growth, and buying the building would be too expensive, Ms. Flanagan said. They could afford to do the renovations or the purchase, but not both. They are hoping to secure a short-term extension on their lease, which would keep them in the neighborhood through the spring of 2025.

Growth planned in new home

The move to 107 Flowers Ave. gave Community Kitchen access to the public in a new way. Their previous home had been inside another nonprofit’s headquarters.

“This just gave us an opportunity to have a brick-and-mortar presence, have a face to the community, have more interaction with the community,” Ms. Flanagan said. “We love when people just walk in.”

The organization added Bloom Café and launched a Lenten fish fry that has gained widespread popularity. The training programs soon filled the 11,000-square-foot space. Now, students can choose between the three-month culinary diploma course, PA Department of Labor-certified apprenticeships, baking and butchery programs, and a six-month transitional employment program offering more support for people returning to the workforce.

The new, 16,000- to 18,000-square-foot facility will have loading bays to receive weekly food deliveries, Ms. Flanagan said. It will offer dedicated areas for each program and much more cold storage capacity.

In that new space, Ms. Flanagan said Community Kitchen is planning to expand the butchery course into a full apprenticeship program. The new place will have a second floor that can be turned into an event space or even a full-scale restaurant. Expanding the business offerings means the training offerings can grow as well.

Ms. Flanagan is particularly eager to bring more people into the transitional employment program.

“A lot of people have [employment] barriers that didn't start in three months and they're not going to be solved in three months,” she said. The students in that program get more support to work out transportation, court dates, childcare and other problems that regular employers don’t have the capacity to tolerate in a new hire.

The prospect is exciting, but leaving Hazelwood is not easy.

“It's painful to leave this neighborhood,” Ms. Flanagan said. “We've been here for a long time. It's comfortable for us. But from a perspective of knowing where we want to grow and what we want to do, it will be good. It's just, it's going to be painful.”

‘So sorry to see them leave’

A three-story pinkish brick building has faded ochre awnings and mustard accents over large windows facing the street. Slender trees with pale green leaves grow every 20 feet or so in front of  the windows.
The Spahr Building on the corner of Second and Flowers avenues has been home to Community Kitchen Pittsburgh since 2018. Photo by Juliet Martinez

“I’m so, so, so sorry to see them leave,” said Terri Shields, founder and executive director of JADA House International, a Hazelwood-based nonprofit that offers youth and senior programming.

The organization launched its Seniors Going Strong workshop series in Community Kitchen’s second-floor classroom; Community Kitchen also catered the event.

Ms. Shields said Community Kitchen sent someone to speak to a JADA House event when Community Kitchen first relocated to Hazelwood from Uptown. After hearing about everything Community Kitchen offered, Ms. Shields recommended it to her grandson, who enrolled and graduated from the program. The training programs are one of the nonprofit’s biggest contributions to the neighborhood.

“It's an opportunity for people who are incarcerated or coming home to get opportunity,” she said. “Not just [people from] Hazelwood, but you know, all over to get opportunity to come and get their chef skills together, or their cooking skills together and graduate.”

“Community Kitchen has been a great neighbor and community partner. While it's great to see them growing, we will definitely miss having them across the street,” said Hazelwood Initiative executive director Sonya Tilghman. The community development corporation has held its monthly hybrid community meetings in Community Kitchen's second-floor classroom since January 2023.

A place to thrive

Local nonprofit Action Housing owns the Spahr Building. Development consultant Linda Metropolus said Community Kitchen Pittsburgh originally leased the building with what she called “very favorable rent terms” and an option to buy. The culinary nonprofit informed Action Housing that it would not buy the building early this year, and later that they intended to move.

“I think it was a great opportunity for them to be in a community like Hazelwood and build their business and grow,” Ms. Metropolus said.

“They were able to thrive while they were there and grow their organization, and we certainly wish them all the best,” she added.

Action Housing does not have a new tenant lined up yet but is exploring different options.

Anyone interested in leasing the Spahr Building should contact Action Housing at 412-281-2102.

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