Combating Hunger, Creating Opportunity

DC Central Kitchen is America's leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.
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Updates for Social Enterprise

DCCK’s CEO awarded highest honor from Williams College

, September 22nd, 2015

Mike screen shot (3)

Last weekend, DC Central Kitchen’s fearless leader, Mike Curtin, received a Bicentennial Medal from Williams College – his Alma mater.

Established in 1993 in honor of the college’s 200th anniversary, Bicentennial Medals honor members of the Williams community for distinguished achievement in any field of endeavor. Curtin received his medal alongside four other distinguished alumni during Fall Convocation, for which he was also the keynote speaker.

His remarks moved families, alumni, and current seniors alike as he spoke about his journey and the winding path that brought him to DC Central Kitchen. Curtin stated during his remarks: “Professors Frost and Eusden encouraged me to do something that at the time was a little unusual…they encouraged me to find MY truth, to catch MY salamander; and they – and everything I experienced in and out of the classroom at Williams gave me the confidence to believe I could do that.”

Curtin came to DC Central Kitchen in 2004, drawing on his experiences as an entrepreneur in the restaurant business to expand the Kitchen’s social enterprise program from less than $500,000 in 2005 to over $7 million in 2014. Under his leadership, DCCK’s social enterprise portfolio expanded from a small catering outfit to include full-service catering and contract meals (Fresh Start Catering), locally-sourced, scratched-cooked school meals, and Healthy Corners, our wholesale program that delivers fresh produce and healthy snacks to corner stores in Washington, DC’s food deserts.

“The Kitchen brings people together around a common table, and contextualizes and elevates a dialogue that gives a voice to the voiceless – including those that have been marginalized – and offers hope where there is mostly despair and resignation.”- Michael F. Curtin, Jr., CEO, DC Central Kitchen

Today, the Kitchen has received numerous accolades under Mike’s guidance, including: The Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Award, the Washington Business Journal’s Green Business Award for Innovation, The DC Chamber of Commerce 2012 and Community Impact Award; and DCCK’s social enterprise was named one of the top 10 social enterprise business in the world by the founder of the Social Enterprise World Forum. In 2015 he received the Community Impact Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Everyone at DC Central Kitchen joins the Williams community in congratulating Mike on this well-deserved honor! Congratulations, Mike!

Watch Mike Curtin’s keynote remarks and Bicentennial Medal presentation at Williams College Fall Convocation.

Smart partnerships boost social enterprise revenue

, August 18th, 2015

Cheese plate

Over the last year, our catering business Fresh Start, has honed its focus on ongoing contracts with local businesses. These partnerships not only provide steady revenue for DC Central Kitchen, but also provide stable hours for our catering staff, all of whom are graduates of our Culinary Job Training program. These relationships with local businesses mean our operations never come to a standstill, even when one-time catering events are slow.

Here’s a snapshot of what we’re offering around town:

Ritz Carlton: Healthy granola bites, which the hotel offers as an in-room amenity for guests.

Good Food Market: Seasonal prepared foods for store customers, including salads, pasta salads, and meals like rice and beans, turkey meatloaf, and veggie lasagna in individual and family sized portions.

One Eight Distilling: Packaged nut mixes that the distillery sells as snacks during their weekend tour and tastings.

Join DCCK at One Eight Distilling on August 13

, July 24th, 2015

Web Story

On Thursday, August 13 from 6-9pm DC Central Kitchen and DC Loud, an organization that promotes local nonprofits and community causes through live music, will co-host “In Good Spirits: From the Kitchen to the Community.”  The evening fundraiser will take place at DC’s brand new distillery, One Eight Distilling.

The event will feature live music from local R&B artist Lamont Bagfeel & Hippie Control and folk group Letitia VanSant & the Bonafides and include a silent auction. Auction items include a $100 gift certificate to Cactus Cantina, 2 inbox field seats for an upcoming Washington Nationals game, a 3-night stay in Exuma, Bahamas, gift certificates to Wonderland Ballroom, and more! Tickets are $20, include a complimentary cocktail from One Eight Distilling, and can be purchased online in advance here. We’ll also be selling food from our social enterprise Fresh Start Catering. 100% of proceeds benefit DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program!

Online ticket sales will close at 3pm on Thursday, so buy them early or bring cash for the door!

We hope you’ll take a few hours to come out and support DCCK at this great new spot in Northeast DC.

Good business is a 365-day-a-year job

, May 17th, 2015

school food

“Good business” is a phrase we use a lot here at DC Central Kitchen. Good business means using every available resource to create positive outcomes, like when we employ chronically underemployed men and women from our Culinary Job Training program to serve healthy, locally sourced meals to 3,200 children at 10 low-income DC schools. That’s not charity—that’s good business for everyone.

But with summer approaching, the majority of DC’s schools will close from June to August, which means that most of our city’s school food staffers will be laid off while children who rely on school meals will have to look elsewhere for basic nutrition.

School closures make summer a time of hunger, even while local farms are producing excess amounts of fruits and vegetables just miles away. But DCCK has a solution. By providing full-time, year-round employment and health benefits to our school food staff, we can enlist them in the fight against summer hunger. Half of these DCCK employees will prepare healthy, kid-friendly meals and snacks for 30 summer camps and youth programs. The other half will work on processing, freezing, and storing summer’s bounty from local farms to ensure our access to quality fruits and vegetables year-round.

This approach will have a powerful impact on our community. All told this summer, we will:

Although we won’t be generating revenue from our school foods program during the summer months, DCCK will maintain employee salaries and benefits, purchase local produce in bulk, and deliver summer meals to low-income children who need them. Providing stable summer employment to at-risk adults, critical nutrition for kids, and vital wholesale revenue to local farmers growing healthy food is more than just the right thing to do. It’s good business, too.

Click here if you’d like to help make an investment in this strategic summer effort to fight child hunger, prevent the waste of healthy farm products, and sustain life-changing employment opportunities for our culinary graduates.

Thank you for supporting DC Central Kitchen. Your contribution is an investment in our work to combat hunger and create opportunity in DC.

DC Central Kitchen serves up 108 dishes in 3 hours for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

, May 17th, 2015

healthy lunchtime challenge

For the fourth year in a row, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team was chosen to prep, cook, and plate more than 100 dishes based on recipes submitted by young people in all 50 states. The catch? It had to be done in a mere three hours!

First Lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Education teamed up again this year to create the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner – a competition that engages kids ages 8-12 in creating an original, healthy recipe. Finalists’ recipes were cooked and plated by DCCK on May 15th for the official judging, and one winner from each of the 50 states will be selected and have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ State Dinner at the White House in July.

It took more than a week’s worth of planning to prepare for last week’s event, which included recipes like sriracha shrimp over quinoa with vegetables, a sweet turkey chili with kidney beans, and fish tacos. Judges included Debra Eschmeyer of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, representatives from the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture, as well as two kid graduates of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters class.

DC Central Kitchen’s culinary team while busy in the week’s leading up to the judging, were well-suited to cook and plate the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge kid-created recipes. As the primary school food provider for 10 DC schools, DC Central Kitchen knows a thing or two about developing meals kids will actually eat. From our Fresh Feature Friday taste-testing activity that engages young people in their very own lunchtime ‘food democracy,’ to the 6,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked, healthy meals served every day to kids in DC’s low-income communities – DCCK has what it takes to meet the incredible task of assembling more than 100 healthy recipes in a short period of time.

You can learn more about our school foods program in our latest annual report.

DCCK guest post: A visitor from across the pond

, March 31st, 2015


My name is Vikas, and I’m the CEO of a group of companies based in Manchester, United Kingdom.  I spend about one third of all my time on philanthropic projects. I had read a lot over the years about DC Central Kitchen, and during a recent visit to an international trade summit in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay them a visit.

A wonderfully warm greeting was my first experience of DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), and within minutes of arriving and I was engrossed in conversation with a smartly dressed and confident woman, Tarina (pictured above), in a DC Central Kitchen uniform telling me about how wonderful this organization was.  It was just half an hour later that this woman would tell me her story, describing how she was an ex-convict, spent part of her life homeless, and never thought she would ever get away from her drug and alcohol addictions.  My host (Andy, the organization’s COO) also told me that when he first met this lady she was introverted, isolated and broken.  Just one year later, here she was – one of the warmest, happiest and most confident people you could wish to meet, a transformation she attributes to DC Central Kitchen.

In 25 years, DCCK has grown from being an idea to becoming an organization with an annual budget of $13 million and more than 150 employees. The numbers are staggering: DC Central Kitchen prepares and distributes close to 1 million meals a year for local nonprofits, including homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics, and afterschool programs. Aside from the (obvious) nutritional impact, their meal distribution program also saves their nonprofit partners close to $3.7 million in food costs.

Given that close to 100% of their Culinary Job Training program cohort arrived facing severe life challenges – the majority having periods of incarceration, drug or alcohol abuse issues, and chronic unemployment – it’s incredible that in 2014, the program’s graduates had a 93% job placement rate (one graduate is even a cook at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the White House).

“We want to be a model for businesses,” Andy said to me. “We’re a living wage employer, and we want to show people that you can run a business, change lives, and make a profit in the process…”

Similarly unusual in the sector is the distance they manage to keep between the hard-reality of running a non-profit, and the soul needed to bind together souls.

A tour of the kitchen was the next wonderful part of my journey, meeting dozens of graduates of DCCK’s program whose lives had been transformed with a mix of empowerment classes, structured (paid) work opportunities, and the chance to build a new family within DCCK’s walls. The atmosphere is light, fun, and much like a ‘start-up,’ but behind this exterior is a very serious social enterprise, one that operates with the efficiency of a for-profit entity while supporting DCCK’s training program.

That’s all before we even look at their national sister organization, The Campus Kitchens Project (replicating DCCK’s core activities at college and high schools throughout the US).

By this point, I was hugely inspired by DCCK when I met Jeff Rustin. Jeff has been with the organization for just over four years and runs their daily empowerment program (and much, much, more).  He is exactly the mentor that every young person in the USA should have, and told me stories of many of the people they’ve helped, including one harrowing account of a woman who was beaten to within an inch of her life by her partner, and had put her four young kids to bed in their car for their own safety, on one of the coldest days of the year.  When Jeff reached them, the children were practically frost-bitten and he took them to hospital, along with their mother, and started working with them.  Only a short time later, the family is doing well, has a home of their own, and two of the kids are even in college. They’re so grateful, that Jeff gets a Father’s Day card from them.  This is just one of thousands of stories DCCK sees.

One of the most powerful things DC Central Kitchen has is its authenticity. This is not a charity that just means well, but one that is made up of people that have been through, experienced, and overcome the challenges that their beneficiaries face in their daily lives. Jeff recounted the story of speaking to a group of young men, who had histories of incarceration, and who were struggling to connect to him and his other speaker.

“I still know my number!” he told them (speaking of the unique number each inmate gets when they go to prison). “….I  asked these young guys, who has a number lower than mine? Come on! Stand up! Nobody did…” Having spent many of his formative years in jail (before most of his audience were even born), he has turned his life around in the most profound way possible and now helps thousands of people to do the same.  “People need to have faith, I’m not talking about God, but they need faith in something, and most of all, themselves….”

Poverty is endemic in the developed world.  Whether you go to Europe, the USA or elsewhere – behind the wonderful shiny exterior of business hotels, conferences, and tradeshows is the reality of cities where, as in the case of most American cities, one in four people are excluded from the economy.  Organizations like DC Central Kitchen give the support people need to thrive, and also- frankly- to survive, and that’s good for everyone.

During my time with DCCK, I asked a number of people I met what it was that kept them so close to the organization.  Unanimously, the answer I got from every single person was single, “family.”