Wake County

Carroll’s Kitchen serves up foundation for a better future

A customer makes a selection at Carroll’s Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, a new grab-and-go restaurant that employs women who have struggled with homelessness.
A customer makes a selection at Carroll’s Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, a new grab-and-go restaurant that employs women who have struggled with homelessness. Courtesy of Carroll’s Kitchen

It seems like a new restaurant opens in downtown Raleigh nearly every day, but none is quite like Carroll’s Kitchen.

Filling the prime location previously held by The Square Rabbit, Carroll’s Kitchen is more concerned with homelessness than herbivores, espresso lovers or any other foodies chasing trends.

The grab-and-go deli and bakery, which opened in September on the corner of Martin and Wilmington streets, employs women who have struggled with homelessness, aiming to give them job skills and financial independence to put their lives on a better path.

Jim Freeze and Vicky Ismail, the two philanthropic minds steering the restaurant’s charitable mission, wanted to build a nonprofit business that could provide those reentering the workforce – whether after homelessness or a prison sentence or other circumstances – work skills and professional training that can provide a foundation for careers for years to come.

The women in the work program – two in early November, though plans were to add more in coming weeks – handle food prep, cooking, washing dishes, and helping serve customers. They are referred by partner agencies such as Raleigh Rescue Mission, Urban Ministries, and others that have contact with women experiencing homelessness. For now, they live in facilities run by the referring agencies, but Carroll’s Kitchen hopes to add a housing component to its program that will have participants pay rent and start to build their tenancy history.

This unique approach was inspired in part, Freeze said, by “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself,” Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s book on the missed opportunities that many charity projects cause.

“One of the premises of the book is that you shouldn’t help others with what they can help for themselves,” Freeze said. “In other words, sometimes certain handouts can hurt the people that you are only trying to help, in the long run. I was starting to think, ‘What does sustainable help look like? What do people experiencing poverty actually need?’ And I started to think that they don’t need that one meal, or that one pair of socks. That might alleviate one immediate issue, but they really need jobs – an income – because jobs are related to housing and the whole ecosystem of poverty. I thought one of the areas we could really help with, when Vickie shared the idea with me, was with employing people and providing a safe employment for them to work.”

Built on the idea that a good reference on a resume goes a long way toward a successful career, Carroll’s Kitchen, named for a philanthropic Raleigh family in the early 1900s, has already seen progress in its first few weeks in business, as measured by employees’ outlook. Freeze said he has seen changes in his workers’ demeanor and their interactions with the public.

“I can definitely see [changes] in them already,” he said. “My role isn’t necessarily to be in their day-to-day lives, not any more than it is to be in the lives of any of our other staff. My job is more to make the collaboration happen in the kitchen, and to make sure the story is told to those that want to hear it. That being said, I’ve definitely noticed that some of the employees from the program walk in every day smiling, whereas they would be sulking throughout the day at the beginning of this.”

Carroll’s Kitchen

19 E. Martin St.

Raleigh, NC 27601


Contact: Jim Freeze, 919-670-3622

Description: Carroll’s Kitchen is a nonprofit restaurant in downtown Raleigh employing and empowering women leaving homelessness. We partner with agencies in the community who refer women to our program, and we provide job training to assist in getting back on their feet.

Volunteers needed: The most powerful way to get involved with us is to bring a friend and come enjoy the food that the women in our program are pouring their hearts into every day. We occasionally post other volunteer opportunities at www.activategood.org.