DC Central Kitchen to run new cafe in MLK Library

A rendering of the outside of the library and new cafe patio.

A rendering of the indoor cafe and outdoor cafe patio for the renovated MLK library, designed by Mecanoo Architecten and-Martinez+Johnson. Image courtesy of D.C. Public Library

D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK), a non-profit that trains individuals with high barriers to employment for culinary careers, will run a cafe in the newly renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library that reopened in Downtown D.C. on Sept. 24.

[Read more: The library’s closure underscored the need for a downtown day center, which opened two years later]

The organization will work with Chef Jose Andrés, who sits on their board, and Occasions Caterers, to provide food and catering for the library, according to a Nov. 9 press release. DCCK previously partnered with Occasions to build a large-scale grocery distribution network as the nonprofit adapted its model to face the coronavirus pandemic, according to its website. In addition to working to prepare food, D.C. Central Kitchen participants will be able to help manage the library’s cafe and any special events via hospitality-sector apprenticeships. 

Ninety-five adults with “histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and trauma” graduated from DCCK’s main training site in fiscal year 2019 and 85% recieved job placements.

“Giving cafe employees job training in customer service, hospitality, and in other areas to prepare them for success beyond their time at the Library, the cafe embodies Dr. King’s passion for economic self-determination,” wrote Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library, in the press release.

The modernization of the library began with public meetings in 2013, and the building was closed for three and a half years starting in 2017. The library now includes a cafe patio at the building’s Northeast corner, event spaces — most notably a 14,900-square-foot rooftop — and a catering kitchen. 

The ground-floor cafe, now called “Marianne’s by DC Central Kitchen,” will be operated by the nonprofit. Occasions will manage catering services, and Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup will consult on menu development. 

This new space will be the most high-profile DCCK location, according to D.C. Central Kitchen CEO Mike Curtin Jr. The organization provides catering through its website and runs another cafe on the campus of THEARC in Ward 8, though that location is currently only being used for food prep and distribution. In addition to the cafe, they provide farm-to-table meals in D.C. schools and deliver produce to corner stores in underserved neighborhoods. DCCK also cooks nearly 3,000 pounds of food each day that would have otherwise been wasted, collecting the extra items through partner agencies and turning them into meals for the community. 

[Read more: DCCK used to also supply most meals for city shelters, but lost the bulk of this contract to another bidder in 2019]

“This cafe and catering partnership with D.C. Public Library will help transform how American cities imagine the role and combined power of libraries and nonprofits,” Curtin wrote in the press release. While the library is operating, the new cafe’s opening date and hours have not been determined. The D.C. Library and DCCK are monitoring city guidelines for the health crisis.

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