Today we’d like to introduce you to Ben Dubow.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Professional cooking is a second career for me. I was a full-time pastor for 12 years, but even during that time, I would pick up cooking gigs here and there when the ministry wasn’t paying (which is often). I decided to go full time into cooking 8 years ago and went to Connecticut Culinary Institute.
Before coming to Bistro on Main, I was an executive chef with Burtons Grill (Peabody MA), Emerson Inn by the Sea (Rockport, MA) and Blue Plate Kitchen (West Hartford, CT). I then became the executive chef and director of nutritional services for the Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC Charities). MACC has been working in Greater Manchester CT for over 40 years, mobilizing our community to break cycles of poverty.
While at MACC, we completely transformed the “soup kitchen” into a Community Kitchen serving scratch-made fresh food. By partnering with local purveyors and farmers, we were able to serve “farm to table” to an average of 100 guests daily. We also started serving family-style, instead of cafeteria style.
My hypothesis when I got to MACC was simple: we have faith that wholesome food, prepared and served with love, bestows dignity and invites hope. That’s what we are all about — dignity and hope.
While at MACC, we started a Culinary & Hospitality Jobs Training Program called MACCchefs. The program is a culinary boot camp of sorts, teaching folks facing serious barriers to employment. Those barriers include homelessness, convictions, disabilities, poverty, language barriers, etc. As part of the MACCchefs program, we started a full-service catering operation called Community Catering by MACCchefs, which provides internships for our students.
But we quickly learned that without real restaurant/line cooking experience, our students were not going to be successful in the workplace. This reality led us to start dreaming about opening a full-service restaurant that would provide on-going training, mentoring and real-world experience.
In November 2017, we opened Bistro on Main — a French-inspired bistro, located on Main Street in Manchester, CT. We decided to go with a French concept for several reasons: (1) we didn’t want to compete with existing restaurants in the area; (2) we wanted to create a great restaurant that would stand on its own as a destination eatery — not just a charity thing. This was important in terms of both the business model and for creating a legitimate item on people’s resumes; (3) we wanted a concept where we could teach transferable skills — and what’s better for that than French cuisine?
Bistro on Main intentionally provides transitional employment. We are a no-tipping restaurant, and everyone is paid between $12 and $15 per hour.
Since opening, the restaurant has been doing great. We are busy almost every night, lunches have been great, we have been booking private events, and the community has really embraced our concept and vision. At Bistro on Main, we like to say you can do good by eating good.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Bistro on Main is really an extension of MACC’s core mission to mobilize our community to break cycles of poverty. Some of the challenges we have faced with the jobs training program and, now with the restaurant, are the same kinds of struggles all non-profits working with this population struggle with.
First off, in order to launch the restaurant, it took a lot of financial capital and staff expertise. Opening and running a social enterprise business is usually far outside the comfort zone of most non-profits.
Second, we chose up front to pay as lose to a living wage as we can — frankly, it is both the right thing to do but also a real challenge.
Third, the night we opened I remember looking back at our line in the kitchen — not one person had ever worked a line before. That’s crazy! And pretty much the same in the front of the house. It was a steep learning curve!
How have we navigated these? Crystal clear vision, the benefit of strong leadership from our Board of Directors, CEO/Executive Director and staff team and lots of prayers!
Please tell us about Bistro on Main.
Bistro on Main is a social enterprise business owned and operated by MACC Charities, providing transitional employment and job readiness training for people in our community facing serious barriers to employment. The restaurant is an extension of our mission to mobilize our community to break cycles of poverty.
As a social enterprise, we have a dual mission: job readiness training and providing outstanding food and hospitality for our guests.
I think from a food perspective, we have become known quickly for our simple, rustic French-inspired classic dishes such as steak au poivre, coquilles St. Jacques, croque madame, coq au vin, bouillabaisse and similar dishes. We also have flavor profiles on our menu that reflect global French influence, a Vietnamese duck banh mi, a North African inspired pork shank tagine, a duck confit poutine and mussels in a red curry sauce.
We are committed to sourcing the best fresh, local and sustainable products we can. Almost all of our fish and seafood comes from Red’s Best (in Boston) and we only bring in sustainable species. All of our ducks and chickens come from a local farm (Marwin Farms) and we work closely with the farmer on species, feed, size, etc. We also bring in produce from many local farms, source all-natural meats, and try to keep our food as high quality, clean and fresh as possible.
I think what I am most proud of at this point has been our ability to bring together our dual missions successfully, and they really feed off each other. By serving top-quality food, we are creating a more challenging and successful learning environment; and the passion that our staff brings with them. Whether they came out of our program or not, is totally contagious tableside.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
We are about three months in and to be honest, it has gone much more smoothly than I would have ever imagined. Ask me in six months or a year and I may feel differently, but right now I wouldn’t change much.
- Lunch – $8-$15 (hospitality included)
- Dinner Appetizers – $8-$13 (hospitality included)
- Dinner Entrees – $18-$29 (hospitality included)
- Desserts – $4-$8 (hospitality included)
- Address: 867 Main Street Manchester, CT 06040
- Website: http://www.bistro-on-main.com
- Phone: (860) 432-5267
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/BistroOnMain867
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BistroOnMain867
- Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/BistroOnMain867
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/bistro-on-main-manchester
- Other: http://www.macc-ct.org