The restaurant was conceived by co-owners Rhonda Callahan and Sarah Ruddle who have been operating a food truck that gives out free meals in mid-Michigan since 2012. The restaurant will be called The Torch 180. Callahan and Ruddle are partnering with the Michigan Career and Technical Institute to train adults with disabilities in customer service, food preparation, cooking, sanitation and other transferable skills.
“We work really hard on teaching them how to advocate for themselves and how to know what they're going to need to be successful without going in and always expecting that everything is going to be changed around for them,” Callahan says.
Callahan says the intention is not for students to continue working in the restaurant indefinitely, but to go out into the industry and work confidently alongside their peers.
“We set the bar really high in our training program and we've never had a student not be able to reach it.” she says.
Callahan says the restaurant will be a “satellite culinary site” for students to come in and train, and eventually be hired.
Paul Mulka, director of the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, says culinary training is the institute’s most popular program among the 1,000 students that graduate per year.
“We graduate 70 students a year in culinary,” Mulka says. “We have more demand for culinary than we can serve.”
Callahan says they’ve already employed 30 students through their pilot program, and many more have reached out with interest.