Social Cuisine

Walking the streets in downtown San Francisco the ecosystem is pervasively diverse. Tourists casually sidestepping around the wheelchair homeless strike a harsh contrast to the shiny new headquarters of the ever-growing technology companies. This is a city that ranks number forty-nine on the global livability index, well below Australian counterparts of Sydney coming in at number five and rival Melbourne, hitting number two.

The relative low level of livability in San Francisco is no doubt a confluence of factors including the complexity of the regional governance system. The development of Cities has not been a frontier issue for the national government leaving the challenge of issues such as homelessness, mobility and resilience to city leadership. Exacerbating the situation is that here in San Francisco there are five layers of government, nine counties and a hundred and ten mayors all pushing and pulling decision making in different and disjointed ways.

Continuity, consistency and certainty in governance purpose and outcome is sometimes blurred creating gaps in both governance and leadership. In this context the third sector, not for profits and philanthropic actors, step forward giving rise to some serious and interesting social enterprise and entrepreneurialism. In San Francisco, the iconic Delancey Street Restaurant is but one example of a third sector funded social enterprise.

At Delancey’s locals, friends, family and tourist share the service and culinary expertise of men and women who have, for one reason or another, hit rock bottom, who have served or would have, served time in gaol. Some dine knowing the history and significance of the place while others enjoy the comfortable ambiance, prime view and ‘homey’ cuisine in blissful ignorance of the meaning and purpose they are bringing to the lives of the servers, chiefs, hosts, and managers.

Listening to our host’s story of repeat offender, desperation, traineeship to manager is etched deeper by the knowledge that over the past forty years thousands of others have likewise forged the very same path to mainstream society. She weaves through her years of crime and drugs with a confronting honesty, there are no excuses, no judgements, as she tells the story and the underlying Delancey philosophy of hard work, confidence, discipline and dignity – to have self-respect and to serve others.

From the ground up this restaurant was literally built by the residents and it is their efforts day to day that provide the funds to train, house, clothe and support each other and the residents to come.

This social cuisine, feeding of lives and people through social enterprise, is replicated across the US including in the Midwest City Cleveland. Integrating social and commercial innovation in the health tech corridor stands the artisan crafted Bloom Bakery. Bloom serves a mean fresh chicken salad and have a signature vegan brioche stacked with goodness.

The Bakery is a Towards Employment social venture training those who have hit barriers to employment in culinary arts, providing them with training and a path to self-sufficiency. Crowd sourcing, donations and commercial income provide a valuable blend of revenue to support the rising of talent of those that need a second chance.

Thriving people, business and community also come together at the up market EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute. Founded in 2007 with a culinary and hospitality teaching programme at the Grafton Correctional Institution it expanded to opening a dedicated restaurant in 2013 to provide individuals regardless of their past, employment and life skills to create equal opportunities for their future.

Today 100 students graduate each year with 95 per cent gaining employment and have a 1.4 per cent recidivism for our graduates.What is highlighted by these examples of social cuisine is that leadership need not come from government. In fact, innovation and entrepreneurialism can thrive in the absence of government making the availability of a city a little better for those that often miss out.

Next time you are in San Francisco or Cleveland I encourage you to taste a little social cuisine.

Katherine O'Regan

Executive Director

Cities Leadership Institute

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Level 23, 45 Clarence Street

Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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