Billings Forge, a fixture in the Frog Hollow neighborhood, has expanded into the city's downtown with a new cafe in the Hartford Public Library.
The nonprofit, started about seven years ago on Broad Street, provides farm-to-table job training, farmers markets, cooking classes and housing for city residents.
Its new location, at 500 Main St., is an extension of The Kitchen at Billings Forge and will also serve breakfast, lunch and pastries made from locally grown and sourced ingredients, organizers said.
With the addition of the cafe, 16 to 20 residents per year will be able to go through the nonprofit's 12-week job training program, said Julie Carrion, the director of catering and education for Billings Forge. Participants learn everything from cooking and baking to sanitation and food safety.
The partnership with the city's public library was a natural fit, Carrion said, since the library already is a haven for residents.
"It's got the connection to people in Hartford and has been committed to employing Hartford residents," she said.
The library cafe will employ about five people. Shavonne Dawson, a North End resident who completed the nonprofit's job training program, is one of them.
Before entering the program, Dawson was a stay-at-home mom raising three children. When she was ready to return to the workforce, she had a seven-year gap on her resume, she said.
"It gave me that confidence -- that know-how to compete with other applicants," said Dawson, 34, who was hired by Hartford Baking Company after she finished her training. She returned to work for The Kitchen in June.
"Anything you would do that takes place in a commercial kitchen, that's what you learn there," Dawson said. "I had a better-looking resume after that."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new cafe Wednesday, said the opening was another step forward for the city.
"What we mark today is a further evolution to job training," he said. "[We're] making sure that our fellow residents of Hartford have an opportunity to find a good-paying job with good benefits in a great community. ... Hartford's future is bright."
Mayor Pedro Segarra said ventures like the cafe "make our city a much better place."
"I walked into those [library] doors when I was 15, and I got to the city by myself. This was one of my safe houses, and it still continues to be a safe house for so many of our residents," he said. "I want all of you to come back as often as possible."
The Kitchen at Billings Forge, set in an 1869 building on Broad Street that housed the Billings and Spencer tool forge -- which manufactured drop iron wrenches for bicycles, pliers and tongs -- opened in June 2010. The Billings Forge complex also includes market rate and subsidized apartments, the Firebox restaurant, a farmers market, community gardens and an art studio.
The Kitchen at Hartford Public Library, at the front of the library in a glass enclosure, will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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