You wouldn’t know that the waitress recommending fish was in the midst of gaining full custody of her son. Or that the hostess has been widowed for five years. Or that the server bussing tables is a recovering alcoholic.
When Jack Mosely opened Tastes of Life this summer, his primary motive was not to bring good breakfast to Hillsdale. Rather, it was to establish a firm foundation for his employees.
“It’s like a big family,” said Las Vegas native Nancy Tanner. “The people here are very friendly.”
To Tanner, the restaurant business is old hat.
“I’ve been in the food business for a long time,” she said. “Probably since I was 15.”
Over 20 years ago, Tanner owned a restaurant in Astoria, Ore., “Angel’s Harbor Hut,” which primarily served breakfast and lunch. She later moved to Ft. Wayne, Ind., where she and her husband raised a family. But after he passed away, Tanner moved to Hillsdale five years later.
After being in Hillsdale for a month, Tanner ate a meal at Tastes of Life and knew this would be her next place of employment.
“It’s more laid back than other restaurants I’ve worked at,” she said. “You get to spend more time with customers and everyone is so nice.”
Mosely did not open Tastes of Life as a restaurateur. According to one of his employees, Stacy Bradford, Mosely had never run a restaurant in his life.
The mission of Tastes of Life is a part of greater mission known as Life Challenge of Michigan, a community and faith-based organization that helps its students emerge from lives of addiction to lives of purpose.
Life Challenge is a one-year residential program where students go through a schedule that ranges from chapel attendance and volunteer service to independent living courses. The program’s ultimate purpose is to release its graduates free of substance abuse.
The restaurant works as a part of the program by providing employment for Life Challenge students, graduates, and other community members in need of work.
Bradford began working at Tastes of Life a little more than a month ago. Although she is not a member of the Life Challenge program, she has already experienced life-changing benefits through employment in the restaurant.
Just recently, Bradford finished her time at the county jail for substance abuse. Before serving her sentence, Bradford turned custody of her son to her mother. After her sentence was served, she quickly found employment with Tastes of Life.
Several of Bradford’s friends also served time in the county jail only to be later employed by Tastes of Life, she said.
“I think it’s a second chance,” Bradford said. “They help with your personal life, work life … If you need to talk to somebody, it’s like family here.”
Bradford’s deepest gratitude does not lie in her biweekly paycheck, but in the personal improvement that has resulted from working at Tastes of Life.
“I’m 28 and this is the longest I’ve ever been clean since I was 13 years old,” Bradford said. “Being away from my kid helped [with that]. I told him I would never be away from him that long ever again.”
Bradford said that her employment at Tastes of Life has helped her get her child back. She will regain full custody of her 5-year-old son next month.
Although Joey Galinis and Trevor Howard are not members of the Life Challenge program associated with Tastes of Life, the two friends have seen impressive changes in some of their co-workers.
Galinis remembers one of the program’s students during his first few weeks of work.
“He didn’t know how to do anything,” Galinis said. “He didn’t know how to live life. But he went through the drinking program to make life better with his family. And now he’s doing really well.”
After Galinis dropped out of high school, he worked at a company that tore down old barns. He later quit and found employment at Tastes of Life this past June. He is currently working on receiving his General Education Diploma.
Howard, who attends the Phoenix Alternative School in Jonesville, began work at the restaurant at the end of October. His appreciation for the establishment lies not only in the employment opportunity, but also the work environment.
“I’m basically working with my best friend, so that makes it better,” Howard said.
The two plan on enlisting in the U.S. Army once Galinis turns 18.
Despite the 10-inch pancakes, hearty slices of meatloaf, and popular fish and chips, employees find more to Tastes of Life than just warm home-cooking.
“This place is helping people,” she said. “It’s more than a restaurant.”