SAN FRANCISCO–At Old Skool Cafe here, the motto is “come hungry, leave inspired.”
Owner Teresa Goines’ young staff do it all — prep, cook, serve and even entertain — at the eatery in one of the city’s rough neighborhoods.
It’s a major change from the lives they once had, dealing drugs on the streets.
“When I look around, I see these young people are my investment and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend money,” Goines said. “This is a dream come true.”
Eight years ago, Goines traded in her job as a juvenile probation officer and spent nearly every penny of her retirement savings to open Old Skool.
“I started thinking: ‘Is there some place for them [youth] when they get out that’s going to actually see these young men for what they actually are — which is valuable and precious and not some scary criminal — but see they boys inside that just want to be loved and have a chance at life,’” she said.
Old Skool employs 11 young men and women. The reality, however, is that not everyone working there will survive Goines’ strict rules on attendance and work ethic. For those who do, though, she offers full-time jobs.
Goines said if an applicant had a felony on their record, they were more likely to get hired at Old Skool — “If you’re ready to change,” she said. “My hope is that this is a jumping block.”
Jeremiah — he asked to withhold his last name — said he’d been arrested six times since he was 14. He now washes dishes at Old Skool.
“We used to wait for joggers and have our guns stashed right here,” the 20-year-old told ABC News, pointing behind a fence. He said he couldn’t go back to that guy he used to be.
“Don’t like it. Don’t like being locked up,” he said. “Don’t want to be killed. That’s a waste of life.”
Daniel Bermudez used to be a hustler four years ago, but now goes by chef at Old Skool.
“I used to make more money probably out there [in the streets] but now … I don’t have to worry about police or somebody trying to rob me or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just more safe for me.”
Bermudez, 20, said cooking was now his passion.
“I didn’t have any passions really [four years ago],” he said. “I think my main passion before coming to Old Skool was just getting money. I used to just hustle a lot so that was really my passion.”
Goines said she was teaching hope to a staff who didn’t have it when they walked in the door.
“I feel like if you can hope and have a vision for your life and future and see other people and yourself with value, the sky is the limit,” she said. “The other things fall into place.”