Tucked away on Hillsdale Street is a small brick building with an orange awning called the House of Pizza and BBQ. Most people go for its Ultimate Barbecue Pizza, but for others, it is a place for gaining new skills and new opportunities.
“It’s just packed with the barbecue taste,” Hillsdale sophomore Nick Uram said after his first bite of this popular pizza. “The pulled pork sold me for sure. That on a pizza, what more could you want?”
Uram and his friend sophomore Isaac Johnson, were there celebrating Johnson’s birthday. People often go to House of Pizza and BBQ for birthday celebrations, including one of Hillsdale’s admissions counselors, according to Johnson.
“I like the ambiance. It has a culture of its own,” Johnson said.
But this restaurant is known for more than just its ambiance and pizza. They are not open on Mondays because several individuals from Key Opportunities, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping citizens “with handicapping conditions or other disadvantages”, spend the day acquiring new skills.
“Key Opportunities actually owns the restaurant,” Cassandra Champion, House of Pizza and BBQ general manager, explained. “They bought it in July of 2016 to use as a training ground for some of their clients. So on Monday’s when we’re closed, they bring their clients down and they learn food safety, cleanliness, and portions. It gives them a broader span of skills.”
The previous owner, Greg Mauldon, opened the House of Pizza and BBQ in April of 2013, but later sold it to Key Opportunities due to his busy schedule as an owner of a construction business. Now the nonprofit uses this restaurant to serve the community with delicious food and by providing an opportunity for individuals with any disability to gain new skills and better their lives.
Executive Director of Key Opportunities, Julie Boyce explained in a phone interview that previously they were only training their clients on manufacturing work such as sorting parts and equipment. They wanted to find a way to broaden their clients’ vocational skills, and House of Pizza and BBQ fit the bill.
“An entry level job in Hillsdale is often in the food industry,” Boyce said. “And manufacturing isn’t for everyone.”
Clients of Key Opportunities gain real-life experience in the food industry by working at House of Pizza and BBQ. Boyce said they even sometimes partner with St. Paul’s Ability Resource Center (SPARC). Skills learned from working at the House of Pizza and BBQ, along with training at Key Opportunities were applied when they cater for the Winter Snowball dance hosted by SPARC on February 24.
As a result of these trainings, clients are able to earn certification to work in the food industry. While some go on to work at the House of Pizza and BBQ, others have the option to work at other restaurants.
“There have been a variety of results. A couple are employed and enjoy the food industry work,” Boyce said. “Several are working on their certifications. They like to have the option for something other than manufacturing work.”