Tucson & Savannah’s: Fresh food and career training
Article by Kristin Palpini. First appeared in the Gazette August 16, 2005
EASTHAMPTON – The proprietors of Tucson & Savannah’s Cafe aren’t that interested in profits.
The owners judge a successful day not by how much money is in the cash register, but by how much their employees have learned.
The eatery is run and supported by the nonprofit Riverside Industries, Inc. as an on-site work training facility for its mentally and/or physically handicapped clients.
‘The restaurant can’t support itself, but it’s not about that,’ said cafe manager Dennis Foley. ‘It’s a skill training program and the proof in the pudding comes when (clients are hired for) jobs (outside Riverside Industries).’
The small cafe, open to the public most days from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., serves breakfast and lunch to approximately 175 people each day. The menu changes daily. Some items that have been served at Tucson & Savannah’s include fruit salad, home made soups, fresh salads, sandwiches, hot-dogs, and pasta in cream sauce.
GORDON DANIELS photo
Employees and staff members at Riverside Industries chat with one of the tenants of One Cottage Street, while enjoying lunch at Riverside’s Tucson and Savannah restaurant.
From left are employee Paul Ayleard, of Greenfield, staff member Jason Lewan, who is an employee specialist, employee Steven Kennedy , of Belchertown, and tenant Bill Hewitt, who is a woodworker.
‘I think it’s great,’ said visiting artist Trish Shepard as she stood in line to purchase lunch Thursday aftenoon. ‘It’s nice that we have somewhere that serves fresh food for lunch.’
Riverside Industries is a nonprofit service that provides approximately 1,000 clients with training and therapy programs aimed at garnering clients employment and improved self sufficiency.
The cafe ‘is designed to give people real job training in this line of work,’ said Riverside Industries General Manager Deborah Thomas.
‘It’s become kind of like the social hub of One Cottage,’ added Thomas who also pointed out there is no other cafe or food service located at the One Cottage Street building.
One of the cafe’s most recent success stories is 22-year-old Anna Kolodzieji. She has been working at the cafe for ‘a long time’ and is ‘excited’ to start working in a cafeteria at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in the fall.
‘It’s easy work now that I got used to it. It took a while to get used to it,’ said Kolodzieji, whose favorite food to prepare is cream of broccoli soup.
Riverside’s goal with Tucson & Savannah’s is to teach the restaurant’s staff how to overcome their disabilities in the work place by providing them with plenty of practice and simple job modifications. For example, the Tucson & Savannah’s Cafe has a lowered register so someone in a wheel chair can operate it.
The cafe also provides extensively detailed outlines on how to carry out basic restaurant tasks such as baking brownies or sweeping the cafe floor. The task list for baking brownies has 44 steps.
‘One size doesn’t fit all,’ Thomas said. ‘So we had to make ways to teach everyone.’
Tucson & Savannah’s started in 1978 as a food cart. Clients would wheel it around Riverside’s training and therapy facilities selling chips and sodas. In 1981 Riverside officials decided to expand the food operation and open a small take-out cafe.
‘I like working here on dishes,’ said Kim Pietrazskiewicz, 40, a Tucson & Savannah’s chef who has been with the organization since the 1980s. ‘I cook with my mom at home and I show her how to cook. I show her all this stuff.’
Former Riverside employee Susan Tallon designed the organization’s culinary arts program and the cafe. Tallon now works at Tri-County Schools on East Street where she recently established an on-site cafe training program for high school students.
Tucson & Savannah’s was expanded again in 1984 when Riverside officials moved the cafe to a renovated space at the heart of One Cottage Street. The restaurant, painted in warm shades of orange and red, now has a dining area, a small kitchen with industrial cooking equipment and a ‘dynavox,’ an ordering system that allows customers to order a meal by choosing a picture of that food.
‘The restaurant has become a very integrated kind of place,’ said Riverside Industries President Ron Bittel. ‘One great thing about the restaurant is it pulls together people with disabilities and crafts people and artists – it pulls all kinds of people together and that’s one of the things Riverside is always trying to do.’
Tucson & Savannah’s is just one of three Riverside Industries on-site job training programs. Riverside also offers on-site training in factory packaging and outdoor maintenance.