Mainstay’s Dandelion Restaurant
By Mary Ickes
Technically speaking, WNC Woman should have featured Mainstay before the Dandelion restaurant, but, since April’s theme is “Food, Glorious Food” and May’s theme is “Home Sweet Home,” I followed suit so readers could discover the Dandelion a month earlier.
For readers unfamiliar with the organization, Mainstay, one of the largest domestic violence shelters in Western North Carolina, offers victims shelter, services, and, as of May, 2013, job training at the Dandelion restaurant. With financial deprivation the most common form of domestic abuse, lack of a dependable income is often the major obstacle to a woman separating from her abuser, especially if she has children. For that reason, Mainstay’s Board of Directors fully supported the restaurant industry as the means of giving a woman an earning potential to support herself wherever she lives.
The name Dandelion, reflected in the restaurant’s decor, symbolizes each intern’s (their official title during the twelve-week program) potential to grow and expand her talents and successes. As shown by the mission statement, the restaurant was designed to benefit the overall community: “We are feeding our patrons with our local, healthy food; feeding our interns with knowledge, confidence, and experience; and we are feeding our community with a unique opportunity to create sustainable futures and to contribute to economic development.”
Following Mainstay’s policy of fiscal responsibility, the board set aside funds to avoid debt while building the restaurant. Located in Mainstay’s complex on Fifth Avenue West, the space was an empty shell (please see the Dandelion on Facebook)) when Alexis Deal, of Circolo Art and Design, donated her expertise. In addition, she consulted with lumber companies about wood for the wall benches, painted the dandelion motif throughout, designed and created the string art light fixtures above each table, set the counter’s tile mosaic, and painted the tables before applying the dandelion motif. The Dandelion opened on May 21, 2013, with Restaurant Manager Chef Robyn Painter, Front House Manager Kat Nevel, and Intern Trainer Catrina, a former intern, supervising day-to-day orientation in the kitchen and Front of the House.
In addition to Mainstay, the Children and Family Resource Center, and the Hendersonville Rescue Mission refer applicants to the internship program. Every detail of the job-seeking process is addressed. Applicants must complete an application, pass a screening interview, and then interview with Chef Robyn and Ms. Nevel. A case worker assists each intern in setting obtainable but challenging goals, always with the primary goal of rotating out into the working world. Depending on her circumstances, an intern’s goal plan might include safe housing, further education, improved mental or physical health, transportation, or childcare. During their internship, mothers may leave their children at Mainstay’s drop-in daycare center.
Chef Painter plans menus based on fresh, local produce that changes seasonally. (J & D Produce has been very generous in supplying a variety of local produce.) With Catrina’s assistance, interns learn to prepare ingredients to recipe specifications, cook the dish, and present food in an appetizing manner. Granted, most of the interns can probably follow recipes, but preparing food for a crowd is a distinct cooking category. When interns rotate to the Front House, Catrina trains them to meet and greet customers, answer menu questions, take orders, operate the register, answer the phone, and wait tables. Since the Dandelion caters events on evenings and weekends (about half their business) and prepares box lunches (for delivery, if requested), an intern’s training encompasses a broad range of restaurant experiences.
A major reason for the Dandelion’s success is that management does not take an assembly line approach. Well aware that domestic violence victims suffer from PTSD, they willingly adjust an intern’s progress through the program when necessary.
After an intern completes her rotation, Mainstay gives her an excellent reference when she applies to the restaurants, retirement homes, and grocery stores cooperating with Mainstay. (McDonalds and Ingles have been especially cooperative.)
Overall, the Dandelion’s interns have done well in the working world but, as we all know, life never hesitates to create another challenge.
For example, what if textbooks cost more than expected, tires are bald, or a child needs immediate healthcare? In such cases, a woman may apply to Mainstay’s Dandelion Opportunity Fund … a donor-advised fund held at the Community Foundation of Henderson County, that was established in December 2013 by individuals in the community to recognize that access to education is the highest return investment a community can make. The short-term grants, of up to $1,500, have made the difference between success and failure for women seeking financial self-sufficiency.
To be continued next month, with Mainstay’s background and current objectives.
Editor Sandi Tomlin-Sutker and I will verify that the Dandelion’s food is fresh, local, and delectable As Sandi yummed her way through shrimp and grits, I tucked into scrumptious meatloaf served with blue potatoes. For dessert, two tiny, frosted chocolate bundt cakes. Apple pie was the other alternative, but being true chocolate afficionados …