After a stint of homelessness upon relocating from Austin to Nashville in 2002, Brett Swayn spent eight years working his way up from prep cook to sous chef status at a national restaurant chain.
In 2013, he opened The Cookery, a full-service restaurant, as a way to continue his culinary career while also helping formerly homeless men train for jobs in Nashville’s food service industry.
For Swayn and the rest of the team, a successful day means serving breakfast, lunch and dinner without turning a profit, front-of-house manager Danae Felsch said.
“The Cookery’s main mission is to empower homeless men to help them get out of their situation,” Felsch said. “They leave the program with industry certifications, but they also leave feeling restored.”
Aside from receiving a SafeServ certification, an industry requirement for those handling food served to customers, students in the five-to-seven-month culinary training program are provided with lodging, a monthly stipend, study materials, uniforms and medical and dental checkups.
After graduating from the program, Felsch said some students are hired at The Cookery, while others seek new career paths.
“At the end of the program, not everyone wants to work in a restaurant,” Felsch said. “That’s why we teach students to approach whatever they are doing with excellence. At The Cookery, that means serving great food and doing that very well.”
For breakfast, Cookery customers will find bagels, biscuits, pancakes and pastries, while lunch and early dinner crowds can choose from salads, sandwiches, tacos and specialty baked potatoes.
The Cookery also offers coffee as well as items from Swayn’s native Australia, such as Aussie-style burgers, meat pies, sausage rolls and Vegemite toast.
“Our students learn how to make things from scratch,” Felsch said. “We make our own seasonings, sauces and dressings, which is why we can confidently say there are some things here you can’t find anywhere else.”
Revenue at The Cookery covers restaurant expenses as well as culinary training programs and other outreach efforts offered by The Cookery’s nonprofit foundation, Lambscroft Ministries, according to Felsch.
1827 12th Ave. S., Nashville
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., closed Sat.
The Cookery: Nashville's nonprofit restaurant doubles as culinary training program
The Cookery offers a wide variety of dishes, including whitefish lettuce wraps. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)