Fresh Start Café Gives Newburgh Residents a Fresh Start

A Newburgh café offers tasty grub — and a leg up to disadvantaged residents

Take a walk down Broadway toward the Hudson River in Newburgh and veer left at the giant silver shark fin. Go to the back of the old Bank of America building and walk inside. There you’ll find the Fresh Start Café, which serves up a variety of affordable lunch classics — sandwiches, grill favorites, salads — five days a week. But this is not your average chic café (not that we have anything against those). Because while the fresh food will surely make you feel good, the fact that this café exists in order to help the disadvantaged will make you feel even better.

The restaurant is wholly staffed by members of the Regional Economic Community Action Program (RECAP) — a Middletown-based agency that gives low-income and disadvantaged individuals the chance to learn about working in the service industry. “The restaurant is not so focused on making money; it’s more focused on training people in job skills and doing something good for people,” says Fresh Start head chef Bill Wilklow, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with 35 years experience. “I’m in a stage in my career and my life where that’s more appealing to me.”

Jessenia Torres french bread pizzas

Wilklow — who has worked at the Powelton Club in Newburgh and the Hartford Golf Club in Connecticut — says, “This is as much a school as it is a restaurant.” There are a couple of other permanent staff members, including front end manager Renee Corey — who has worked at the Thayer Hotel — and assistant manager Chris Bourbeau, a graduate of the original Fresh Start Café in Middletown, which opened in 2008.

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The success of RECAP’s Middletown eatery inspired the opening of the second location in Newburgh last July. “Some of our previous graduates have gone on to jobs in restaurants, hotels, nursing homes; there are many directions they can go,” says Carol Kobetitsch, who manages both cafés and is RECAP’s director of culinary arts. “We can even work with restaurants to custom-train employees according to what the business is looking for.”

There are currently eight trainees in the Newburgh café. Those in the program usually stay for about six months, learning both kitchen and front-of-house skills. They each get a one-on-one evaluation to assess their progress and help guide them through the program. “It’s a great learning environment,” Kobetitsch says. “Most of our trainees enjoy themselves so much they don’t want to leave.”

The café seats about 34 people in an open dining room. There is also a large conference room for business luncheon meetings. Kobetitsch notes that “probably 97 percent of what we serve is made fresh every day.” Most entrées cost under $7; all profits are channeled back into the program.

Kobetitsch sees Fresh Start Café as a goal-reaching opportunity for those who might not otherwise have the chance to get such personalized job training. “We see the employees grow over the course of the time they’re here,” she says. “That sense that we have made a difference is very rewarding.”

Fresh Start Café. 280 Broadway, Newburgh. 845-863-0100. Open Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

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