Old Skool Cafe San Francisco
BY MELISSA WALKER
Old Skool Cafe is a faith-based, violence prevention program, providing marketable employment skills in the restaurant industry to at-risk youth ages 16-22, through a supper club run by at-risk youth in San Francisco, California that provides training, jobs, and a second chance at life for youth coming out of incarceration and foster care.
Teresa Goines is the founder and CEO of Old Skool Cafe. Her experience working with gang-affiliated youth as a juvenile correction officer impacted her in a way that drove her to find new ways to break the cycle of incarceration by giving young people hope, economic opportunities, and training in a supportive environment.
Goines has received several awards and recognition for her work with Old Skool Cafe and the Bayview Community: 2013 CNN Hero Award, 2012 Wells Fargo Community Spirit Award, 2011 Bank of America – Neighborhood Excellence Local Hero Award, 2011 Westmont Global Alumni Award, 2009 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, 2008 Jefferson Award, and 2006 San Francisco Foundation Koshland Bayview Fellowship Award.
Goines spoke with impactmania about her journey, the impact of her organization, and her impact maker.
You have an impressive background in corrections and education. What was a key moment when you realized that something outside of the norm like this could be more beneficial to success than the methods that you were seeing in the corrections system?
The first time I realized that something had to change was the boot camp I worked at where we had a great group of officers that really cared about the kids.
We were trying to develop special things for youth. They let me start a college and career exploration program within the facility.
I saw great growth while they were there, because they were getting an education. They were getting counseling. But as soon as they completed their confinement time, we’d put them right back in the same environment and they would literally call and say, “I want to come back.”
When they are put back in that same environment and there’s nobody there for them it’s hard to do the right thing — when everybody around you is doing the wrong thing and going the wrong way.
There’s got to be something for when these kids get out. It is where we’re missing the boat. I saw for the first time that something needed to be done and needed to be created.
What goals did you set out to accomplish when you founded Old Skool?
There was just me, but I did have some amazing volunteers.
The goal was how do we break the cycle of incarceration and illegal ways of making money, poverty, and the hopelessness, the catalyst.
I believe from my work with these young people that they’re hard workers and they wanted a different life, but they didn’t see a way out. That was my number one goal – how do we create a way out and let them be who they want to be, and who they were intended to be?
You started from your apartment building in San Francisco. Did you ever expect to go so far in such a short amount of time?
I actually started it in 2004, out of my apartment. I decided to just go for it.
I thought, “It’s just like if I were going to grad school. You sort of sacrifice everything for two years.” Little did I know, it took eight years to get it out of my home. So, it’s a way longer journey than I thought.
A pastor heard about the work I was doing and said, “You need to come and speak to a lot of pastors and ministry leaders in the city, because they need to support what you’re doing.”
One of the questions they asked was, “What is your biggest need?” I said a building, because I am still operating this out of my house. And nobody takes me seriously, because when you say this is an Old Skool Cafe and they’re like, “…but it’s in your house.”
They have an extra building and they said, “We love what you’re doing, we believe in it, and we’d be willing to give it to you for low rent. Also, you can get it renovated, and turn it into a restaurant.” That’s how I was able to move into the building.
Then they needed to sell it because they had a big balloon payment coming up. They thought they had somebody to purchase it, but then when it got closer to the date that they needed to sell before this payment was due. The people that were going to buy weren’t in a place to do that.
They told me that we’d love to sell you the building but you need to come up with the money in the next month, or we need to put it on the market. But, there was no way I could come up with $600,000 in a month.
That’s when I started praying and just saying, “God, this is a vision that I prayed for and I believe you gave me because I don’t how to do this — there’s no way I can come up with that kind of money.”
The scary part was it would mean the program would close, because they were giving me reduced rent. I couldn’t afford rent anywhere else in San Francisco, and I certainly couldn’t afford to buy.
I did a lot of praying and freaking out. I reached out to everybody including several people from my alma mater, Westmont College. It was beautiful. One anonymous donor in particular ended up giving a large amount that allowed us to put a down payment down, and we were able to get loans from a bank.
A whole group of people came around me, and we had weekly phone call to help advise me for the loan agreement for the bank.
The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship asked me to come and be a speaker at an event where they were asking me for challenging situations and times that I’ve had my faith tested. I said, “Actually, I’m in the middle of one right now.”
I shared the story where we were at with the building and that the program could possibly close. They rallied and did an online campaign and raised a few thousand dollars. It was just sweet and beautiful. So many people just gathered around.
We were able to put half down and get a loan for rest. It was a really special story to see the community say, “No, we value this and we don’t want it to go away.” It’s incredible the power of community when they get together and have a belief in something strongly enough.
How many employees do you have at any certain time on staff?
We have around 20 to 25 at a time. We have new trainees as well that go through the training program and have the opportunity to become employees. We have enough adult to youth ratio to make sure they’re getting the individual attention that they need.
How did the theme of the restaurant come about?
Everything in creating Old Skool was very intentional. I saw a lack of knowing much positive history about minority leaders in this country by the youth. I love the Harlem Renaissance, so that was particularly part of the reason for capturing the all around the beauty of that time and that era with some powerful African-American and Latino leaders.
Also, what I loved about the era was even if you were poor, even if you didn’t have much, people would still dress up. They had one suit. You know they were going to press it, make it look sharp.
I love those who find hope and joy in community in the midst of hard times. I was also wanting for my young people to get dressed up to feel how good it feels to dress classy because sometimes you have to do the actions for the feelings to follow.
So for all of those historical reasons. And it’s fun to have like a speakeasy vibe. Dressing up also increases a level of confidence that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Are students encouraged to pursue any cooking style? Or, is there a strict adherence to the menu.
Our focus is on them learning how to make our food on the menu, which is international soul food. It’s soul food as you would traditionally think, but it’s also international because every culture has their comfort food dish.
We have recipes from the youth from their families, and we focus on them learning to be able to execute it the same way each time.
And, we always welcome different chefs to come in and teach them different dishes and techniques, or sometimes do fun training where they get a cookbook and different ingredients and get to make something up.
Have some students turned their experiences at the old school into a restaurant or culinary career?
We have a few that have gone on to be become cooks, line cooks, and some have gone on to culinary school.
One of our youth actually got a scholarship. We were on the Rachael Ray Show, and he got a $15,000 scholarship to culinary school and a set of Rachel’s own brand of knives. For him, that was a lifesaver to find that he didn’t know that he was gonna love cooking and decided he wanted to be a chef and have a restaurant someday.
Others have gone on to work in restaurants that have helped put them through college.
We try to build a relationship so that there’s open doors for them if they decide they love the restaurant industry and want to go that way. Some discover that they love it, and for others it’s just a stepping stone for learning about how to hold down a job and how to be a good employee — how to have a good work ethic.
We have a life coach and counselors. We focus on helping them find their passion. Some are going on to do fashion design. Another, who got her masters from USC is in the film industry and it’s launching her career, but she’s continued to be a waitress to make her way.
Are there any talented young artists who participate in the entertainment aspect of Old Skool as performers?
For the entertainment portion, we’ve opened up to youth that are not at risk, as well as those that are. It’s open to any youth that are 22, and under. Most of them are probably coming from families who have a little more support.
We are always taking open submissions. We’ve even had groups who are coming through San Francisco that are from other places in the country say, “Hey, we’d love to perform at your restaurant.”
We’ve had one young lady that ended up on The Voice, Danielle Walsh. She now has a professional band and is singing professionally which is exciting to see.
Have you ever considered taking Old Skool food and the program on the road? A food truck to different festivals.
I’d love that — it’s a great idea. We are actually looking at expanding. We have talked about it and would like to do to a food truck. We’re not able to afford one right now, but for people to know about us and get exposed to our youth at different places would be great.
In three words, how would you describe the impact that Old Skool has on young minds?
Our goal is to move youth from surviving, merely surviving, to thriving. So surviving to thriving, if I had to put it in three words.
That has a lot behind it, right? The youth that I started working with who were incarcerated didn’t expect to live to see their 18th birthday because that wasn’t reality to them. They had so many friends and family members that were shot and killed, and didn’t make it to their 18th birthday.
Changing the mind shift from just surviving every day to actually thriving and being excited to get up in the morning and be alive. To know that you have a purpose in this world and to have goals and dreams about the future.
Who is your impact maker?
Old Skool Cafe is named after my mom — it’s actually Cora Jean’s Old Skool Cafe. My mom was always the one that inspired me the most.
People would ask, “Did she cook?” It had nothing to do with the restaurant at all, we didn’t go out to eat much — my dad thought that was a waste of money.
My mom taught me by example, how to love people unconditionally and unselfishly.
My dad is severely handicapped, and growing up my whole life, my mom, sister, and I, all took turns helping take care of him.
My grandparents lived right next door and my grandmother also became bedridden when I was 15. We literally had two almost like nursing home level of care, to give to my dad and my grandmother. My mom, my whole life, was like a 24-hour nurse. My sister, Emmy, she took care of us, my dad, my grandma and she just did it without complaining. She taught me to pray and have faith in God, and to love and just be unselfish and kind.
I always attribute the fact that I have love to give to my young people — to not give up because my mom poured into me and taught me to love God, and love others.
My mom was exhausted and sick often, but she pushed through. That’s been a lot of what my journey is — I wanted to give up probably more days than I wanted to keep going.
Old Skool Cafe photos by Stacy Ventura Photography, family photo courtesy Teresa Goines, and video courtesy Old Skool Cafe.
Thank you to Cliff Lundberg from Westmont College for connecting impactmania with Teresa Goines.