Serving Up Hope for the Formerly Homeless 17

The Cookery is providing new avenues 
for those who once lived on the streets.

On the surface, The Cookery looks much like any other Nashville café. A new high-rise building is taking shape just down the street, and the sounds of a jackhammer can be heard through the main dining room windows. There’s quiet music playing, and a few people work diligently on laptops around the room. It’s late afternoon and with the exception of occasional laughter, the kitchen is fairly calm.

But a closer look reveals that one of the men behind a laptop is studying for food safety certification. Pause for a moment to converse with one of the warm and friendly staff members, and his weathered face tells you that he’s been through hell and back.

Besides being a bustling casual restaurant, The Cookery is an important piece of Lambscroft Ministries, an organization founded in 2009 by Australian-born Brett Swayn. After living on the streets himself when he first moved to Nashville in 2002, Swayn spent eight years working his way from prep cook to sous chef at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse on West End Avenue. In late 2009, he signed a lease for The Cookery’s 12 South location, and three years later opened its doors. Since then, he has put his experience to good use teaching culinary skills to formerly homeless men.

During a five-month period, the men live in one of Lambscroft Ministries’ two Discipleship Houses while they learn under Swayn and his staff. At the end of their experience, they will have earned a ServSafe certification—a vital requirement when applying for a job in the food service industry.

But, as Human Resources Manager Danae Felsch explained, these men don’t just leave with a new skill set and a piece of paper to prove it. “Our goal here is whole restoration, body and soul,” she says. Men come to The Cookery at varying levels of health, and revenue from The Cookery as well as donations help Lambscroft Ministries fund medical treatment, food, clothing, and housing for students. The Cookery provides a place to find purpose and fulfillment in work, but the ultimate mission is to build community and create a safe place for all kinds of healing.

Late last year, 29-year-old Devin Adams found himself without a place to live. He met Swayn and decided to make a change in his life. He completed his ServSafe certification and has since worked at The Cookery and at a local hotel to gain experience in catering and event management.

“This isn’t just a program,” Adams said, “It’s a top-notch experience. I’ve learned a lot from Brett. Professionalism, cooking. He’s really talented, and he cares a lot about us guys.”

While we chat, Adams recommends a “Porky’s Tater” for me, which is a baked potato covered in a well-seasoned mountain of pork. After the first bite, I could taste exactly what he meant by “top-notch.” It was consumed in record time.

Since coming to The Cookery, Adams has stayed busy, and is currently working as much as he can to build savings for a new chapter in life. He hopes to move into an apartment soon, and his ultimate goal is to set an example for current students at The Cookery. “I want these guys to see someone who’s been on the streets, came here and worked hard, and kept going,” Adams said.

Ray Arnett, kitchen manager and trainer at The Cookery, met Swayn during a bout of extreme winter weather in early 2015. Arnett sought safety in the gymnasium at Woodbine Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where Lambscroft Ministries still provides meals and temporary shelter to men and women twice a week.

With an incredible story of redemption and faith, Arnett now spends his days working alongside Swayn and teaching men vital kitchen skills. The program at the Cookery now has 13 graduates, and Arnett is proud to be one of a handful who now work on staff.

Because he can relate to those who have experienced homelessness, Arnett thinks of students at The Cookery as his brothers and comrades. He beams when describing his favorite part of his management and training role. “You see that man over there? If I were to pat him on the back and say, ‘Good job, brother,’ you’d see a little glimmer in his eye.” He pauses, and the smile on his well-worn face is infectious.

“That glimmer? It’s hope.”

To learn more about The Cookery, stop by and experience their entirely made-from-scratch menu at 1827 12th Avenue South in Nashville, or visit their website at TheCookery.org.