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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.”