Anushree Dave and Layan Barakat work at the University of Windsor’s EPICentre. This series aims to highlight the stories and capture the emotions behind inspiring social enterprises in our community. To learn more about how you can get involved with social impact initiatives in the area or start a social enterprise of your own, please visit www.epicentreuwindsor.ca
Tucked away on the 800 block of Windsor’s historic Ouellette Avenue sits the Do Good Deli. At first, the diner’s ambience seems similar to any other: retro-inspired signage adorns the front of the building and the smell of freshly-made French fries floats through the air. It isn’t until you step inside and read the menu that you realize their social mission to help others in the community makes them a unique business among others. The company’s intention is in its name: “Do Good” Deli is a social enterprise on a mission to help young individuals learn the skills needed to get a job and be competitive in the food service industry.
“We bring in students to our program and they learn basic skills to gain confidence and get out there in the workforce,” says Laurie Musson, Director of Food Services at the Downtown Mission.
With approximately 70% of participants who go through the program landing jobs after graduation, the Do Good Deli has been successful at achieving what the founders set out to do. The journey to success, however, wasn’t straightforward or linear. Musson, along with business partner Mark Gillett, who is the head of the enterprise program, created various iterations of their business model as they tried to figure out how best to sustain the deli and the program. Their enterprise started as a snack shop, but participants (also referred to as “enterprise trainees”) weren’t able to develop the skills they required to be competitive in the workforce. “They needed more training and the program was just not enough,” said Gillett.
Eventually, the focus of the program became not just skills development, but also developing as a whole individual. “If they have personal things they need to get out and discuss and meet, they’re able to do that. They’re working on the whole person in this program and the deli is just the icing on the cake. Where they could go in and get some training and eventually be able to get a job,” said Musson. One hundred percent of the deli’s profits support the Mission’s programs.
Raymond Cruz-Condray is a 23-year-old graduate of the Do Good Deli program. Initially, he had started his career in the culinary program at St. Clair College, but with financial strains impeding his educational path, he had to look for other resources within the community. Determined to get an education, Cruz-Condray turned to the Do Good Deli program. He was able to receive the training needed to continue his journey in the hospitality industry and gain the confidence to apply that knowledge in the workforce. Cruz-Condray now works as a line cook at Smoke and Spice and says he loves his job and the people he works with. He gets to expand on his culinary skills every day and credits the Do Good Deli for giving him the opportunity to pursue his career goals without barriers.
Cruz-Condray’s story is similar to many others that have gone through the program, which is now in its ninth wave. What the enterprise trainees learn during their time at Do Good Deli varies depending on how their training is tailored. “We’re creating a set of experiences that position our trainees to enter the workforce with relevant work experience,” said Gillett. “For example, I had one trainee who wanted to be a dishwasher. So we ensured that he got to wash dishes while he was at the Do Good Deli. Another trainee wanted to go through and become a Red Seal chef. Not only did they work on the food prep, but they got to touch all aspects of food service.” Whether a student comes into the program knowing what avenue of the hospitality industry they want to pursue or not, the program will cater to the individual through a variation of in-class and hands-on training.
Walking into the Do Good Deli for the first time, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by the staff who were eager to share their experiences with us. Jake Silani—a talented chef working at the deli for the past two and a half months—sat down with us to talk about his involvement with the enterprise. Silani came to the deli with 10 years of kitchen experience, having completed culinary school and gotten his Red Seal shortly after. He’s had experience cooking in Vancouver and Ireland, but what drew him to the deli was the opportunity to teach others how to cook and live out their passions. As the social impact of the deli continues to grow, Silani has faith that with more exposure and traffic, the organization will be able to leave behind a great legacy in the community. “I think once we get the word out that we are giving people skills that are transferable outside of the charitable organization—a skill that they can use in life—it’s going to be very beneficial to the community, especially once more people find out about this.”
In just a few short years, the Do Good Deli has positively impacted the lives of many hospitality workers in the Windsor-Essex community, giving them the knowledge and confidence to pursue their dreams and enter the workforce with the right skills needed to succeed. The delicatessen also gives community members an opportunity to help make a direct impact in the lives of friends, family and neighbours who may be looking to launch their careers in a focused, supportive environment. The Downtown Mission believes it has a fundamental commitment to serve the people of our community and this shows in how they run their business.
When we asked Gillett how they’re going to continue growing and helping the folks in our community, his response was simple but insightful: “We’re going to respond to our folks and what they need.”