2024-05-28 7:40 PM

For almost 34 years, DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) has been a “nationally recognized” community kitchen that recycles and serves food around the nation’s capital for those who are homeless and/or underserved. Recently, the kitchen’s CEO and Falls Church resident since 1994 Mike Curtin was named “D.C’s Non-profit CEO of the Year” by the Washington Business Journal, partly due to the relocation of DC Central Kitchen on the banks of the Anacostia River.

When first walking into the newly-built, two-floor setup of DC Central Kitchen on First Street Southwest in D.C., it’s hard to imagine that it was once located in a “decaying” basement of the Federal City Shelter.
What once started in a “decrepit,” windowless 5,000 square-foot-basement has transformed into a 36,000-square-foot headquarters full of windows for employees, volunteers and visitors to interact with one another in various ways. The new space will also incorporate a training kitchen for the organization’s culinary program, classrooms for teaching and meetings, and office space for those who work for the kitchen from a media/business standpoint.

Long-time City of Falls Church resident and local businessman Mike Curtin shown with one of the new stainless steel cookers installed at the new D.C. Central Kitchen location that he, as the kitchen’s executive director, secured in Southwest D.C. in 2022. His work earned him the honor as 2022’s Non-Profit CEO of the Year by the Washington Business Journal. (Photo: Falls Church News-Press)

Curtin, who has been in the restaurant business in D.C. “for a long time,” as well as owning a restaurant in Falls Church — the Broad Street Grill — from 1998 to 2002, said he became involved with DC Central Kitchen after meeting founder Robert Egger and donating food and kitchen equipment to the organization. After his “run” in Falls Church ended in 2004, Curtin came across an opportunity to work at the kitchen as the chief operating officer. Now, 18 years later, Curtin said working at DCCK has been “an amazing ride.”

“I think the kitchen provided a place for me to use all the experience that I had gained for my entire professional career,” Curtin said.

After his experience owning the Broad Street Grill and moving on to DC Central Kitchen, Curtin said he was able to incorporate what he had learned at the F.C.-based restaurant to his new career. Knowing that food can “bring people together” and the kitchen “has an incredible potential to bring different people together for a common goal or task to make our communities a better, stronger place,” Curtin said he was able to take what he had done at Broad Street Grill in terms of training, marketing and business development to his new position at DC Central Kitchen.

“I was able to really focus on the community aspect of the hospitality business when I opened my restaurant in Falls Church,” Curtin stated, “and all of a sudden [DC Central Kitchen] offered me a place to do all these things in one place, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to just start the next chapter of my life.”

His initial reaction to being named the non-profit leader of the year by The Washington Business Journal, was “surprised” while also acknowledging it being an incredible honor and “very humbling” achievement. However, he said when these kinds of honors are given out, he “always thinks about the other 200 folks” working for DCCK “that make this possible.”

“I’m incredibly lucky that I get to be on the cover of The Washington Business Journal and I get to stand up in front of groups of people and talk about the kitchen,” Curtin said. “But I only get to do that because of the hard work that happens every day that most people don’t see.”

When walking into the new location of the kitchen, a visitor is met with one entrance to enter or exit the restaurant, something that was important for Curtin and his team to have that allows staff, students, volunteers and visitors to come to the headquarters and experience what is all around them. When walking into the entrance, one unique observation is the use of windows both inside and outside the headquarters. Curtin said this allows people to see staff in the kitchen making the food and volunteers distributing the food, a somewhat personal experience one can have when truly understanding how much work goes into the organization.

Starting out as a “social service-style organization” rescuing food thrown away or not used from restaurants, hotels and caterers and turning it into “healthy, nutritious meals” sent out to shelters, halfway houses and other nonprofits “for free,” DC Central Kitchen also focuses on training individuals to “get to that place of self-sufficiency” by using food. Over the years, Curtin said the organization has moved into more of a “social enterprise business, generating “about half of our revenue, well over $12 million a year” through businesses, catering and more.

The new building displays two floors, with the bottom floor holding the kitchen, classrooms and volunteer area, and the top floor hosting office space for media and business work. These two floors aren’t separated by a ceiling, however; the second floor looks over the ground floor to see staff, volunteers and visitors entering the facility, making it easy to interact with one another. The kitchen area has five times the kitchen space as the old location’s with all-digital appliances that make it “more efficient and safer” in the workplace.

The organization’s former location in the Federal City Kitchen’s basement not only outgrew the facility “physically,” but Curtin also said the location was “not respectful for a dignified place that recognizes the incredible life-changing decisions” for the men and women working for DCCK, as well as students in DCCK’s culinary job training program that works with individuals who have faced “significant barriers” in employment.

“We just needed something different that was out of the margins [and] out of the shadows,” Curtin said. “[A place] very much in the middle of a developing community and a space that really embodied our values and transparency.”

After 12 years of looking for a new headquarters and convincing the building now holding the new facility that DCCK is not only a “viable tenant but a transformational partner,” the organization is now able to distribute 25,000 meals a day, graduate 250 students a year and “hopefully” have 20,000 volunteers in the upcoming year. Curtin said the new location will hopefully be finished sometime in January of 2023.

Other areas put on display in DCCK’s new headquarters include a training kitchen designed for students and non-profit organizations, a dishwasher room named after a 21-year veteran staff member, bathrooms that have changing rooms and a main-gathering space called the “Hub” that can be used for meetings, staff lunches and fun events for staff and their families, as well as for local families. Phone and study rooms are also placed around the building for those who may want to make private phone calls or need quiet time to work, and wellness rooms for staff who may be nursing mothers or practice a religion where they need to pray on a daily basis.

When walking back to the entrance/exit to leave DC Central Kitchen, one will notice a pillar signed with the names of numerous people. Curtin said these names are nonprofit leaders, supportive chefs, D.C. government officials, longtime volunteers, former or deceased staff members and present staff members.

“About half of our staff, including myself, have been down there in that basement shelter everyday slugging it out,” Curtin said. “I think it’s really gratifying for those men and women [who work for DC Central Kitchen] to be recognized in that way.”





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