"The Problem Is That The Problem Is Not The Problem"
These were words in 2017 that shook Shawn Niles to the core when he realized that it spoke of his responsibility to impact the community of Yakima.
It started about one month before he would be featured on Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef, and was during a season of violent episodes taking place in Yakima. Multiple leaders from various spheres of influence were gathering to discuss the issues and try to find solutions. Many were pointing fingers, and shifting blame. It was during one of those meetings that Shawn remembered something that another leader had said in another city facing similar problems: "The problem is not the problem - the problem is that the problem is not MY problem." But how could he address the situation, even if he was willing to call it "his" problem?
Moments later, Joe Willis (then director of YPAL - Yakima Police Activities League) spoke and shared the multiple opportunities available to work with young people, and prevent future issues. He spoke of several opportunities, but it wasn't until he mentioned their empty commercial kitchen, that Shawn's ears perked up. Maybe this was the start of an answer to the problem.
Joe and Shawn met, and discussed how the kitchen might be used to address Yakima's needs. Shawn then met with local chef, Julie Kirchhoff, and Yakima business pioneer, David Allan, and the three began dreaming up Urban Kitchen - a 4-month free business and culinary school for students in the valley, who might be looking for better opportunities.
They planned quickly, held an impromptu fundraiser, and were soon meeting with their first group of students. Urban Kitchen of Yakima was born.
Today, Urban Kitchen has graduated 5 classes, and looks forward to many more. The program is developing and growing, and more students are receiving better opportunities as they pursue their passion in the culinary world. In 2021, as a shift during Covid, Urban Kitchen moved to it's new home at Eats & Elixirs Restaurant. This move provided the school with not only a kitchen, but also a restaurant to serve at during the end-of-class pop-up. It's central location in Yakima also provides students an easier way to get connected and thrive through Urban Kitchen's program.