At the intersection of food and charity, two restaurants share similar goals

Kings Kitchen in Charlotte and Carrolls Kitchen in Raleigh are both using the job-training blueprint to provide culinary jobs in the food service industry while improving their communities in the process.

At 10 minutes to 3, they start filing in. Some drag wheeled suitcases, others carry plastic grocery bags stuffed with personal belongings. At the door of King’s Kitchen in Uptown Charlotte, they’re given a ticket, good for one fresh-cooked hot meal. They find seats in the restaurant’s dining room, and over the clatter of the open kitchen, gather around as Chef Jim Noble begins his bible study.King’s Kitchen is a fully functioning restaurant operated by a professional staff, including Chef Cody Suddreth, who sharpened his skills at several James Beard Award—winning restaurants in the South. To be sure, it’s one of the best places to eat in Uptown Charlotte. But it’s also a nonprofit that feeds and mentors people in need.How Jim Noble, one of Charlotte’s most revered restaurateurs, established this altruistic mission, dates back to 1998 when Noble, an ordained minister, and his wife, Karen, established Restoration Word Ministries. To him, it’s simple:”Restaurants are inefficient food manufacturing facilities,” he explains. “They have a lot of down time. We realized we had the horsepower to feed people, and the ministry had the ability to raise funds and recruit volunteers, so we put the two together.” That was in 2010.To the well-dressed, high-rise workforce of Uptown, King’s Kitchen is a favorite spot for oyster po’ boys and after-work drinks. But to another demographic, it’s a helping hand. “Anytime someone walks in the door and they look like they need help, we offer it,” says general manager Yuri Oliveira. “If they need a sleeping bag, a jacket, or a box of food, we do what we can to help them.”In 2014, Noble launched the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, joining forces with the Los Angeles-based nonprofit of the same name, which offers food, medical services, rehabilitation programs, housing, skills training, and more to the homeless. On Friday nights in Charlotte, staff and volunteers wander the streets with water, personal hygiene kits, and King’s Kitchen chili cheese dogs for people who need them. On Saturday mornings, a crew picks up trash, helps with home repairs, and puts on cookouts and kids activities in the J.T. Williams and Reid Park neighborhoods, both sites of the Dream Center’s adopt-a-block mission. And on Sundays, Jim Noble leads a church service in the dining room of King’s Kitchen, followed by a sit-down meal served by volunteers.”It gives them a chance to sit in a restaurant environment and have someone wait on them,” says Bo Frowine, Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center’s executive director. “It’s an opportunity for us to give back, and do it with dignity.”The Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center also facilitates a year-long paid internship program at King’s Kitchen, that, coupled with financial and life skills classes and bible studies, is designed to get people get off the streets. Noble’s next goal? A multipurpose building to provide housing and classrooms for those in the program.In Raleigh, a similar effort is underway. In late September, Carroll’s Kitchen, a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch spot, opened on the corner of Wilmington and Martin near Moore Square, in the space vacated by longtime sandwich shop The Square Rabbit.Carroll’s Kitchen executive director Jim Freeze and board president Vicky Ismail met at Vintage Church in downtown Raleigh. Freeze, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, was working as the church’s facility manager when he met Ismail, a restaurateur who ran The Cary Café for 18 years and now owns and operates Highgrove Estate, a wedding and event venue in Fuquay-Varina.Via the church’s outreach program, Freeze worked with Raleigh Rescue Mission and saw first-hand the effects of homelessness and poverty in Raleigh. After reading a story about King’s Kitchen, Ismail approached Freeze with the concept of Carroll’s Kitchen, a restaurant whose profits fund life skills and finance courses, job training, and housing for women living in shelters, many of who are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.Carroll’s Kitchen currently provides full-time employment to two formerly homeless women. Freeze expects to work with 8-10 women within a year.”Seeing the pride the women in our program have when they watch people buy the food they’ve worked so hard to produce, the food they’ve poured their hearts into, that’s the best part of my job,” says Freeze. “To see how that impacts their confidence—I’m going to remember that forever.”