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Colors Restaurant

As people spend more money on meals prepared away from home, opportunities for decent-paying jobs in the restaurant industry increase - but trained workers are needed to take those opportunities. Colors Restaurant in Detroit, a program of the Restaurant Opportunity Center of Michigan, serves as both a hands-on training center and a full service, locally focused restaurant. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
ROC Michigan Executive Director Minsu Longariu: Colors is really trying to transform and re-imagine Detroit’s food system from the inside out, using the food system as a way to strengthen the local community connection between Detroit residents with opportunities for employment, sourcing from urban farms throughout the city, and using restaurants as a way to build community within our city. The goal: having a more just food system that nourishes the people who produce and prepare our food, and also the community, consumers and residents. Our training program is a ten-week full time program that combines on-the-job skills training with classroom training. By the end of the program our students have earned national and college
...we need to really maintain that sort of permanent spirit of innovation and permanent cycle of action, learning and reflection.
level certification through the classroom component and also gained on-the-job practical experience that can serve as a bridge to employment.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
One thing we have really seen throughout our experiences here at Colors is the way in which food, because it is so universal and touches everyone in their daily lives in a very personal way, can serve as such a powerful way for people to come together and build a community that can advance change. This includes both change on a personal level, whether it’s someone gaining the confidence to be able to comfortably approach a customer at a table and taking that confidence to other domains in their daily life, or building a community that is engaged and informed, centered around caring for all of its members. One thing that we’ve really seen is how food, which is something in many ways we view as so personal, is powerfully positioned to be a vehicle for transformation in a way that’s much more public and widely shared throughout the community.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Something I see as an ongoing challenge is when we’re engaged in this kind of community-based work, there are so many moving pieces: the environment and the issues that our students and community members are facing are so dynamic and changing. One challenge I am trying to keep in the center of my mind as we move out of the startup phase is that we need to really maintain that sort of permanent spirit of innovation and permanent cycle of action, learning and reflection. Those are the types of activities that are generally brought to the forefront in the beginning phase of a project. Once Colors has years one or five or 10 under its belt, we have to remember how we build, and how organizations keep that spirit of innovation at
So many of the problems we’re facing are so complex that there isn’t always a clear answer or cookbook recipe that’s been shown to work 100 percent of time.
the center, and learning along the way and not becoming so embedded to the way we have done things in the past. Adapting to a changing environment is so important.
What really differentiates this program?
I think what makes Colors unique is that we’re trying to place people in existing jobs and opportunities while simultaneously attempting to improve working conditions and career opportunities across the board. What makes our center unique is that we’re connected to larger community-based efforts of systems change. Right now, in the southeast Michigan restaurant industry, 13 percent of jobs pay $15.50/hour or higher. That’s an incredible opportunity for our graduates and community members. That also means that 87 percent of those jobs are not living wage jobs. We’re not only trying to get our members into those 13 percent of jobs, but trying to grow that number so everyone can have a living wage job.
What are the keys to success for your program?
In terms of our core values, I would say community, collaboration and creativity. When I say community, I mean from a community-centered perspective we’re really committed to placing those most directly affected by inequities and injustices at the center of our work. In terms of collaboration, the problems are so large and so complex that no one can really handle them alone. It’s really important for us to join our strength with committed individuals and organizations that are also committed to this kind of change toward more just and fair workplaces and jobs. Building those alliances is key to our ability to make a difference. With creativity, I think maintaining that spirit of innovation is something that is really important. So many of the problems we’re facing are so complex that there isn’t always a clear answer or cookbook recipe that’s been shown to work 100 percent of time. We’re always learning and taking the best from what has been done before. Having the creativity to combine that for our local circumstances and challenges is really important.
How does your program organize the resources needed to make programs happen?
We’re often asked the question of how do we manage to do so much as a relatively small organization. One thing that has been an important piece of that is the fact that although our work touches on many different areas -- and it has to because we’re talking about a systems change -- it all deals with the people we serve. If I am a restaurant worker and I have been in the industry for the last 20 years, and I have a family I’m trying to raise and yet I’m still stuck in a  $9/hour job, there are a lot of different reasons why that happens. Part of it is my life experience, part it of has to do with public policy, so we do public policy work. Sometimes it’s unscrupulous employers, so we hold campaigns to make sure employers are not undercutting people and are playing by the rules, and we formalize job training so I can get the skills I need to advance in the workplace. What allows us to engage in this range of areas, that so affects our low and moderate income restaurant worker members, is building momentum and resources for other activities we’re engaging in. All of the activities we do unite around and contribute to the core problem we’re trying to address, which is to improve opportunities for advancement for a restaurant worker’s job with a living wage. Everything we do goes to that or increases community support in ways that are just very synergistic.
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  • Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan
    The ROC of Michigan is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving working conditions and opportunities for advancement for all Southeast Michigan restaurant workers, for the collective benefit of workers, employers and consumers.


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