LuLu’s Kitchen: Everyday Miracles
“LuLu’s Kitchen really is a full representation of almost every piece of the St. Matthew’s House mission,” said Liz Morris, Director of Hospitality.
And it’s true, LuLu’s Kitchen, home to the Fresh Start Café, Delicious By Design Catering and the Catalyst Kitchen’s culinary training program, is not just a full-service restaurant serving breakfast and lunch, but also provides jobs for those in our homeless shelter, food for the residents, job training for those in the recovery program and comfort to anyone who walks in the door.
Having opened in October 2020, during the midst of a global pandemic, LuLu’s Kitchen is a God-ordained miracle in itself, but it doesn’t stop there. The past year has been full of unforgettable moments for the LuLu’s Kitchen staff as they learned, grew and found joy in the everyday miracles.
Learning and Growing
“Lesson #1: Don’t open during a global pandemic,” said Liz chuckling. “No, to be honest, I’ve been through worse. There were a couple hiccups along the way, but it was pretty obvious God has his hand on this place.”
And God continues to be present every day at LuLu’s Kitchen as things evolve. The first year for any business is always a whirlwind of trying stuff out and shifting to make things work.
“You have a certain set of ideals in your head as far as how you think it should run, but a lot of times that changes,” said Mary Beth Esposito, Restaurant Manager.
Liz agreed, saying that they’re still learning how the new market works. Plus, opening in a pandemic presented its own challenges because everything was out of the norm with fewer people eating out and fewer people traveling due to COVID. But through it all, LuLu’s Kitchen has gained some consistent supporters in the community.
“The supporters of St. Matthew’s House have certainly helped keep us afloat and helped get the word out about this place,” Liz said.
Over the past year, LuLu’s Kitchen has hosted special dinner events, a sober happy hour, St. Matthew’s House fundraising events, association meetings and more!
“We’ve learned to get creative,” Mary Beth said. “It’s all about how can we attract those folks out there, and we’re still getting people in here every single day that have never been in here before!”
The Everyday Miracles
One unique facet of LuLu’s Kitchen is the Workplace Training Program. Residents from the Justin’s Place Recovery Program or from the Campbell Lodge shelter are able to train with the chefs to learn invaluable skills that will help build their resumes and find employment once they finish the program.
Liz sums up the goal of the program with three words: rediscovering self-worth.
“Most people we deal with, that’s the big issue,” Liz said. “They can’t find where to seek out that sense of fulfillment because they’ve lost all self-worth. So giving someone the opportunity to re-earn that confidence is really what it’s all about. Skills are simple and easy; it’s the inside stuff [that takes work].”
Just like everything else, it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight, but in time what once was impossible becomes probable.
“There are miracles here every day – literally,” said Mary Beth referencing those who work in the kitchen from the shelter and recovery program. “It’s them staying clean and sober every day. If they leave here feeling good about themselves, they’ll want to come back tomorrow, which I believe stops them from wanting to use in between. They have a safe environment to come to work.”
“It’s very humbling knowing we’re able to be a small part of making an impact on people and ultimately the community,” Liz said.
So with God on their side and the community at their back, LuLu’s Kitchen strides into the new year anticipating more learning, more growing and even more miracles.
To read about one specific miracle, check out Ginger’s story.
Beyond LuLu’s Kitchen
LuLu’s Kitchen is just one of our successful social enterprises. We also have our locally-renowned thrift stores, the Port LaBelle Inn & Conference Center and our Car Wash and Detail Center.
Our first thrift store opened in 2001, and now we have 6 locations across four different cities along with a fleet of trucks that offer fast, free pickup for donations.
The inn and conference center, located in the quaint town of LaBelle, opened in 2014. With an on-site catering team and a top-notch staff of hospitality and service managers, it’s an idyllic spot for a weekend getaway, social retreat or business conference.
And finally, our Car Wash and Detail Center opened in 2016 on the same lot as our Naples Boutique store allowing customers to drop off their car while shopping for some second-hand treasures inside.
These social enterprises are critical to the ongoing work of St. Matthew’s House because their operations allow us to put 100% of all donated dollars into our programs, so donors can confidently say that their money is directly impacting the lives of those who struggle with homelessness, hunger and addiction.