An open love letter to Café Reconcile: great food, people, mission

A powerful mission of positive change, a tight-knit family, and a bananas Foster bread pudding that will put you to sleep in your chair. What more could you ask for?

by Tom Mayer
August 19, 2019

Full disclosure: The author is in a long term romantic relationship with Chef Eugene’s seafood-boiled deep fried turkey necks. Seriously, they are my single favorite dish in New Orleans right now.

Café Reconcile stands proudly at the heart of the OC Haley Corridor. Walk through the front doors for lunch and be greeted by an incredibly youthful and professional staff who will escort you right to your seat. You will share a spacious and comfortable dining room with Central City neighbors, besuited businesspeople from the CBD, and long-time Reconcile devotees who can’t stay away.

“We are more than a café,” said Mike Jones, a lead server trainer who has been involved for over a year now. “Café is what we do and what we love, but what we come here for is to provide opportunity.”

The Mission

Café Reconcile provides job training and life skills training to young people in New Orleans, ages 16-24, who might otherwise not have the opportunity to develop that expertise. The team has graduated over 1,600 students from their eight-week training program that focuses on aspects of the restaurant and hospitality industries. Students are always present in the dining room and in the kitchen preparing incredible food.

Pay What You Can Days at Café Reconcile are lunch events that are open to all, but dedicated to those in the community who may find it difficult to pay for full-priced meals. Café Reconcile does not just provide support to trainees in their program but offers services like this to the Central City neighborhood.

The Food

We walked in on a special day, Buffet Day. Once we had placed our drink orders, we were encouraged to help ourselves to an impressive lineup: golden brown fried chicken, shrimp fettuccine, gumbo, soulful collard greens, Asian green salad, and warm peach cobbler.

We tried a plate a few plates of everything. The food, as it always has been, was spectacular. The fried chicken was MVP of the day for me. It was full of flavor and had just the right amount of crunch. The all-you-can-eat buffet was a steal at $17.99. I have never experienced an unlimited buffet of this quality for under $20. Best of all, every dollar spent directly supported the hard work of the students at the café. I didn’t get to reunite with those precious turkey necks on buffet day, but fear not. They are a part of the daily lunch menu, available Monday-Friday 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

The People

Front house manager Glenda Rhode Pausina has been directing the dining room choreography and empowering her young staff at Café Reconcile for seven years, “We are a nonprofit, we get along by the generosity of grants, donors, and people who walk through our door. Come have lunch with us, host a catered event here…come get married here!” She continued, “In my seven years here, there has not been a single day that I did not enjoy coming to work.”

I had a chance to ask a few program graduates, who are now staff members, what the Café Reconcile community means to them.

Steven Whitten, lead server trainer, said once you’re in, you’re in. “When I graduated in 2007, I would pop in to come say hi. Even now, some of the kids who graduated come by every week.”

“It’s profound. It’s family” said Edward Allen, server trainer. “It’s been everything I could ask for since I came back.”

Mike Jones agreed, “Every day in training we have a word of the day, and community is the first one because we are going to build on that word. For us, it’s family.”

Whenever I have friends or family here from out of town, I always bring them to Café Reconcile because I think it shows the best of what New Orleans has to offer. A powerful mission of positive change, a tight-knit family, and a bananas Foster bread pudding that will put you to sleep in your chair. What more could you ask for?

For more information about the program and for announcements of lunch events like Buffet Day and Pay What You Can Day go to cafereconcile.org

Tom Mayer grew up in New Orleans, but didn't actually grow up at all. He much prefers spending time with young people in this city which is why he has been working in youth development for the past five years. He is most passionate about traveling off the beaten path and discovering new favorite foods and bands. He will happily throw a frisbee around if asked.

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