Carroll’s Kitchen: A Restaurant with a Social Mission

Carroll's Kitchen will be located in the former location of the Square Rabbit.
Carroll's Kitchen will be located in the former location of the Square Rabbit.

As a platoon leader in Iraq, Jim Freeze used to meet with tribal elders in an effort to quell violence against his men. What he learned, often over sharing a meal, surprised him.

“They said, ‘Help us get jobs, and we can take care of the security,’” says Freeze. “It dawned on me that the local economy was why people were engaging in violence. They were desperate and being offered money to shoot at us.”

Freeze helped the village 
re-establish businesses — restaurants, convenience stores and farms — and stability increased dramatically. Now back home, Freeze is partnering with a former restaurant owner Vicky Ismail to launch Carroll’s Kitchen, which will employ the same principle to help homeless women, offering them jobs, housing, counseling and other resources

It’s a restaurant with a social mission, patterned after similar non-profits in other cities, including The King’s Kitchen in Charlotte and Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. A magazine article about King’s in Charlotte inspired Ismail.

“When my church put out a challenge to pitch ways to love Raleigh, I pitched my idea to run a non-profit restaurant with living quarters close by for homeless folks. The business part would eventually generate dollars to sustain itself,” she says. “They loved the idea, and Jim asked if I knew about a location next door that could work. He walked me through the space that day, and the dream began to take shape.”

Carroll’s Kitchen officially launched at the end of April with plans to open this summer in the old Square Rabbit space downtown. The grab-n-go location will offer fresh soups, salads and sandwiches. The lack of seating doesn’t bother Freeze.

“Startup costs are lower, the ongoing costs are lower, and it allows us to do a higher volume to get our name out there, ” says Freeze, who is working on the venture full-time as executive director. “If we can’t get the restaurant thing right, we can’t do the rest of it. What I love about Vicky’s background is that not only has she had four successful restaurants, she hasn’t had a failed restaurant.”

Ismail, board president of Carroll’s Kitchen, owned and operated The Cary Café for 18 years. Now she’s CEO of Highgrove Estate, a wedding venue in Fuquay-Varina that hosts about 90 weddings a year.

“I envision fresh, locally sourced produce, dairy, meats and condiments to create well-made accessible food,” she says. “We want to react to seasonal items; we have so many great sources to choose from and keep things exciting and comforting for our customers. We have a couple of surprises as well.”

Carroll’s will employ a general manager and head chef, as well as trainers to work with the women on life skills. The women will be referred by partnering agencies. Payment will be in the form of a stipend equal to between $10 and $15 an hour and will compensate the women for both work and building life skills.

“One week employees may spend 25 hours in the restaurant and 15 hours going through classes,” says Freeze. “There might be other times they’re 40 hours in the restaurant and doing a one-hour bible study. It’s not just handing somebody a dollar on the street or buying them a sandwich. We’re part of a job training curriculum.”

For more information, visit carrollskitchen.org.

Christa Gala

Christa Gala

Christa Gala worked for 16 years as a newspaper columnist and freelance writer across digital and print platforms before joining Raleigh Magazine. Gala is in her fifth semester teaching Writing and Reporting at UNC-Chapel Hill’s renowned School of Media and Journalism.
Christa Gala

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