Two Causes, One Social Enterprise
City Life Magazine|April/May 2018

Hawthorne Food & Drink is giving the underprivileged an opportunity to find gainful employment and give back to the community

Brandon Harripersaud

When SARS hit in 2003, it had a catastrophic effect on Toronto’s hospitality workforce. Thousands of people were laid off, and hotel occupancy rates dropped from 80 per cent all the way to 20 per cent.

In order to circumvent the gap in the workforce, hospitality workers and six of the major downtown hotel chains got together to create an organization necessary to deal with the workforce issues. This organization would come to be known as the Hospitality Workers Training Centre (HWTC).

Ten years later, the HWTC would come up with the revolutionary concept for Hawthorne Food & Drink, for which it won the United Way’s Social Enterprise Case Competition.

“The concept of Hawthorne was to use the operations of the restaurant to provide free training for in-demand jobs that would support people who experience unemployment. [The training would help them] to move into those jobs,” says HWTC’s executive director, Mandie Abrams.

All of the people who apply for and are accepted into this program are unemployed and do not have the necessary skills to find a job or gain training by themselves. These trainees have not had the access to education or opportunities that some more experienced people have had.

“We work with individuals who might be experiencing disability, new immigrants, people who have not graduated from high school, people who are experiencing illiteracy [and so on],” says Abrams.

The model Hawthorne uses is to provide short-applied vocational training and the assistance of employer support, which involves taking on trainees for short, unpaid placements. Participants in the program are able to gain workplace experience, as well as coaching and mentoring from industry professionals, with help finding work upon completion. In 2017, 70 per cent of program participants went on to find employment.

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