Formerly located in a shotgun house, underneath a law office, Liberty’s Kitchen has found a new home in the ReFresh Project at North Broad and Bienville. While the non profit only moved five blocks from its original location — for staff members and students — the move is more than just physical. At today’s grand opening, the sentiment was felt by all – including program director Dennis Bagneris.
“For me, the new space means potential. The potential to address more, to work more and deliver more. It’s not only about the good of the program, but nourishing the entitlement of our young people and organizing the community around them.”
Today’s ceremony served as a celebration for many and a chance for the community to take in the new Liberty’s Kitchen. The pride on current Executive Director David Emond’s face was evident as he introduced the “new chapter of Liberty’s Kitchen”. City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell spoke to the crowd, but also to the students seated next to her — “You are worth it — it is all about improving life for young people. Because of you, we will continue to support Liberty’s Kitchen.”
For founder Janet Davas, it wasn’t just about the sleeker and larger Liberty’s Kitchen that she worked tirelessly to create. For her the day and the new space is not “about bricks and mortar. It’s about human lives. It is about the youth of New Orleans. In reality, its they who are the ‘New- New Orleans.”
Established in 2009, Liberty’s Kitchen was created as mission to serve disconnected and at risk youth with a chance at a future. Through a culinary based, 12 week Youth Development Program, its students are taught life and employability skills; the organization also focuses on educating students about health care, mental health, nutrition, housing assistance, GED completion, childcare and financial literacy.
Liberty’s Kitchen quickly took off. Ideas generated around founder Janet Davas’ kitchen table between an unlikely group of Davas, a former Executive Director of Cafe Reconcile, endocrinologist Dr. Alan Burshell and chefs Reggie Davis and Hardie McDonald moved to the infamous corner of Tulane and Broad. The location caddy corner from the Orleans Parish Courthouse inspired the mission’s tagline – “Where Justice is Served” By 2010, the organization expanded with the creation of its School Lunch Program in partnership with New Orleans College Prep and other local schools. Designed to provide local students with fresh and nutritional meals, the program acts as a teaching facility for Liberty Kitchen students. Of equalimportance, the program currently provides roughly 4,000 meals, including breakfast, lunch and snacks to schoolchildren across the city.
In 2012, Liberty’s Kitchen announced a partnership with developer Broad Community Connections and Whole Foods as a member of the ReFresh Project. The collaboration aimed to use the Katrina ravaged Schwegmann’s space located on North Broad to create a “fresh food hub” in a neighborhood consider by many to be a food desert.Earlier this year, Whole Foods opened to citywide applause; after a 6 month construction timeline, Liberty’s Kitchen opened earlier this August.
In their new 10,000 square foot space — including a 2,500 sq ft teaching kitchen, Liberty’s Kitchen aims to expand their program as well as to generate awareness to their cause. The larger facility means more space for students to enroll and learn, expanding from around 81 students to a capability of serving 200 within the next three years. Alongside its teaching mission, the programs hopes to increase its school lunch production to deliver meals to up 3,500 children daily, or around 1.4 million school meals per year.
The cafe space also received a makeover. The new restaurant is light and airy, its reclaimed wood and subway tile accented interior created by interior designer Krista Schwartz. In the morning, the cafe serves coffee from Starbucks, a long time supporter of the mission, and pastries. At lunch, the menu focuses on healthy sandwiches, salads and New Orleans inspired entrees. The MVB Burger, from New Orleans’ original pop – up restaurant, is a menu standout. The space features outdoor seating and a communal “Family Dining Room”.
Liberty’s Kitchen is located at 300 N. Broad Street and is open from 7am to 3pm, serving breakfast and lunch, alongside a full coffee bar. Liberty’s Kitchen products can also be found at its neighbor, Whole Foods’ hot bar. Offerings include gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya.
Disclosure: NoDef Writer Liz Davas is the daughter of LK founder Janet Davas.