Since it opened over six years ago in downtown Denver, Cafe Options has taught people a lot. And those are just the people who have stopped into the breakfast/lunch spot and gotten a taste of this groundbreaking operation run by Work Options for Women; hundreds of women have also gotten hands-on training there in the restaurant industry after going through the WOW program that trains women at risk of living in poverty for jobs in the food industry.
But three weeks from now, Cafe Options will shut its doors. “WOW has decided to close Cafe Options," says WOW executive director Catherine Henry. "Our lease is up. We’ve been negotiating and taking a look at what we’re doing there, and decided it is not a sustainable business model for us.”
But then, Cafe Options has already done its job. “From our perspective, we opened because we wanted to, one, provide advanced training, and, two, get our name out there,” says Henry. "We’ve done both of those things."
But at the same time that Cafe Options was giving women who had been through its core program additional training at a real restaurant — and a real paycheck — WOW always struggled to pay the bills there. "Now we’ve had some government funding that’s been reduced," Henry notes. "It's in our best interest as an organization going forward to close the doors there."
The nonprofit has plenty of other options to explore. It already runs the WOW Cafeteria at the Denver Department of Human Services building at 1200 Federal Boulevard; in fact, chef Carrie Shores, who left Table 6 last fall to head the crew at Cafe Options, will be moving over to the WOW Cafeteria, where she'll focus on training and also community outreach. "We're so excited to have her managing that cafe and focusing on the students there, and also out and about in the community as a guest chef, celebrity chef," says Henry, who adds that Shores proved to be a "tremendous trainer." And that is the core mission of WOW: to give at-risk women the skills and confidence they need to work their way out of poverty and be gainfully employed in the food industry.
WOW's catering arm is also growing: The organization has added a catering module to its training curriculum, and when WOW gets catering jobs, trainees can pick up paying shifts. WOW just purchased a catering vehicle, too.
And the public will still be able to get a taste of WOW's work. Last fall, WOW opened Cafe United in the United Way building at 711 Park Avenue West; that "social change kitchen" has been a "tremendous collaboration," Henry says, and the organization will be looking at more collaborations.
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So when Cafe Options closes on Friday, September 18, WOW's work will continue. The eight women currently working at Cafe Options will be moving into WOW's Jobsearch program, and given the demand for food workers these days, they're certain to get better-paying jobs quickly, Henry says. More than 300 women have passed through Cafe Options, and some have been "super-successful as sous-chefs and kitchen advisors, even front-of-the-book managers," she notes. The cooking classes offered at Cafe Options will move to Cafe United.
And you'll see that catering truck around town. But first, WOW needs to find a name for the company, for that truck.
How about Hope on Wheels?
Both Cafe Options and Cafe United are pouring right now; for more information on all the Work Options for Women programs, go to workoptions.org.