The Old Skool Cafe cooks up a future for SF youth

Servers and bussers hear about a menu item before the Old Skool Cafe opens on Apr. 13, 2012. BETH LABERGE / THE GUARDSMAN

The Guardsman

Lulu Orozco

Among the many means of transportation from campus to campus, the inbound T-Third Muni line seems to be the least favorite. Renowned for being one of the city’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, Bayview holds a hidden gem that is yet to be discovered.

Cora Jean’s Old Skool Cafe, a non-profit youth-run supper club, takes you back to a place where the dim candle lights, piano tunes and oversized booths could have been taken right out of the 1940s. It’s a cafe with a mission.

One of many programs in San Francisco for at risk youth, the Old Skool Cafe aims at mentoring and providing career opportunities to at-risk youth who may otherwise have never gotten an opportunity to explore their full potential.

Founder Teresa Goines expressed her love, hope and dedication for the at-risk youth who are not often seen as capable, “Our responsibility for a young person is to get wind underneath their wings and help them soar,” she said.

Old Skool Cafe founder Teresa Goines at the Bayview youth-run supper club on Apr. 13, 2012 in San Francisco. BETH LABERGE / THE GUARDSMAN

Starting between the ages of 18 through 23, you’re no longer considered youth. Those are the years where many fall through the cracks, yet nobody seems to see them as youth, Goines added.

Inspired by her early experience as a mentor at a youth gang prevention program in Santa Barbara, Goines’ vision of a youth-run supper club began in her house, running for nearly 5 years before finally landing a place in the Bayview district.

“My first initial experience working with the gang prevention program broke my heart,” she said.

She saw a large number of youth who needed that extra step towards motivation and transition, where a support system was necessary in a family-oriented community.

At the age of 18 many young people are locked out of any support system because they are no longer considered youth.

If nobody shows you how to open a bank account, how to get a passport or how to apply for a job, how will you ever learn, she asked.

“The spirit and the love that we get from the people who come here, they are people who put an effort into our career,” Abu Bhonapha, a waiter at the OSC said. “There are volunteers who teach us how to take an order, how to approach our customers.”

The restaurant skills needed to succeed are crucial and many don’t get the first hand experience if never given the opportunity to explore their full potential, “you just have to follow the rules, we all have our own stories.” he said.

“You feel fancy as soon as you walk into the restaurant,” said Tammy Vaitai, a youth manager at the Old Skool Cafe and former City College student.

Vaitai has been a youth apprentice since 2009, and a spoken-word performer on any given night.

“Before Old Skool Cafe I’ve never seen myself in a restaurant, now with all the experience I won’t be able to go anywhere else,” she said.

The Fine Act

Beyond the serene atmosphere, expertise and fine dining tapas-style menu where the cheapest plate will cost you $10.95, it can be easily forgotten that the waiters, cooks, and servers are all youth under 23 years of age.

Your taste buds will explode as you explore the wide selection of tasty dishes: a well-dressed spinach salad, a Red Snapper ceviche tostada and the best comfort food known as Mac N Cheese that will have you melting into your oversized booth.

The magic of the kitchen is a credit to the industry professionals who work as volunteers and give their time and knowledge to the cafe’s mission.

“The heartbeat of why it works is because I try to make it feel like a family, not a program,” Goines said.

Her love and passion is seen through the involvement not only in the restaurant aspect of the Cafe, but in her personal connection with the youth.

“My hope is that a place like this will be in every city in America,” she said. “A place where we can transform in hope.”

Jerry Liu and Bethany Wang perform classical music during dinner at the Old Skool Cafe on Apr. 13, 2012 in San Francisco. BETH LABERGE / THE GUARDSMAN

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