Wake County

Raleigh restaurant will offer job training for homeless women

Shawn Webb, right, hangs a sign at Carroll’s Kitchen in downtown Raleigh on Aug. 16, 2016, while Brian Hoppmann makes sure the lettering is straight. The restaurant will provide jobs for formerly homeless women.
Shawn Webb, right, hangs a sign at Carroll’s Kitchen in downtown Raleigh on Aug. 16, 2016, while Brian Hoppmann makes sure the lettering is straight. The restaurant will provide jobs for formerly homeless women. ccioffi@newsobserver.com

When Jim Freeze met the homeless people who slept on the floor at Vintage Church downtown, he wanted to find a way to help them.

So Freeze, who worked at the church at the time, collaborated with a partner to open a restaurant that will employ eight formerly homeless women.

Carroll’s Kitchen will open on Martin Street in September, and the space will be unveiled during First Friday events Sept. 2.

“Work brings dignity, and when people are working, they make better choices,” said Freeze, who quit his job at Vintage and now serves as executive director of Carroll’s Kitchen.

Three of the women, who were referred by area shelters, will live together in affordable housing and will be required to take life-skills classes, Freeze said. They will earn between $9 and $12 an hour at Carroll’s, above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“They will pay rent and take classes on money management,” Freeze said. “We want to make it as realistic as possible.”

Freeze started Carroll’s Kitchen with Vicky Ismail, who used to own Cary Cafe and now owns Highgrove Estate, a special-events venue in Fuquay-Varina. The two met at Vintage.

Food-service job-training models exist in several U.S. cities, including Charlotte, Ismail said. After learning about several organizations, Freeze and Ismail devised their own version and named it after Ernest and Della Carroll, who were civic and church leaders in Raleigh in the early 20th century.

Carroll’s Kitchen will have about 12 employees, eight of whom will be in the job-training program.

Ismail said they decided to focus on hiring women who are homeless or were recently released from prison because those women often have fewer opportunities and can have a hard time finding jobs.

“There’s a lot for men, there’s a lot for women with children,” she said. “But if you’re a woman that’s single, there’s not a lot out there.”

Freeze, 33, an Army veteran who graduated from West Point and served two tours of duty in Iraq, moved to Raleigh in 2011. Before he started working at Vintage, he worked with a recruiting firm that helps veterans find jobs.

Raleigh Rescue Mission asked Vintage leaders to allow some homeless people to sleep on the floor of the church, and Freeze got to know them.

The Triangle has some good programs to help those in need, Freeze said, but he and Ismail envisioned a place where women could gain job skills.

“It was kind of a leap of faith,” he said.

The restaurant space is the former home of The Square Rabbit, which closed in February after Carolina Ale House founder Lou Moshakos bought the building. Moshakos will eventually open a restaurant there, but he offered the space to Carroll’s Kitchen temporarily.

Freeze and Ismail are raising money online to help with costs of construction, equipment, training and housing. If they meet their $30,000 goal, donors have promised to make matching donations.

Freeze said he will soon start searching for a permanent space, but he hopes the Martin Street site will help the project get off the ground.

Recently, Freeze and Ismail hired Liz Reedy as sous chef and Nina Sigarto as general manager.

Sigarto, who has lived in Raleigh for about a decade, attributes her success to Ismail, who has served as her mentor. Nearly 20 years ago, Sigarto bought a pizza joint in Florida from Ismail.

“She gave me a purpose and helped me build a career out of it,” Sigarto said.

On a recent day, Sigarto teetered on a ladder as she painted the walls of Carroll’s Kitchen. She said she looked forward to helping others the way she was helped by Ismail.

“We’ve all had things happening in our lives that we’re temporarily debilitated by,” she said. “And luckily, I had somebody like (Ismail) in my life.”

Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi

Want to help?

Carroll’s Kitchen is trying to raise $30,000 through the online fundraising site Kickstarter. To donate, go to kck.st/2aLavou.