Social Restaurateur Serves Up Thanksgiving for Locals in Need

Social Small Business of the Day: A Look at Entrepreneurs With Heart

Business: Kula Café, @kulacafeasbury

Who: Marilyn Schlossbach, a Jersey Shore Restaurateur and partner in the Kula Café with Interfaith Neighbors

What: The Jersey Shore café is a social enterprise that offers hospitality job-training for community youths and doubles as an affordable café that’s open to the public.

When: April 2013

Where: Asbury Park, NJ

How: Jersey Shore restaurateur and entrepreneur Marilyn Schlossbach runs five oceanfront restaurants and has put philanthropy at the center of her business model.

She says the idea for Kula Café, a business to prepare young adults to successfully enter into the hospitality industry, came to her after realizing the needs of her community.

“Although the city is bustling with new restaurants and bars, there are many residents who are still unemployed and in need of a career opportunity,” she explains. “Students learn a variety of valuable life skills – from multitasking to social skills, all of which are transferrable across industries.”

After a 16-week program, students are placed in culinary internships in local restaurants. Through her non-profit, Food for Thought by the Sea, she raises funds and awareness for the Kula Café program, which she co-runs with Interfaith Neighbors. Their next step is to add on Kula Farm, which will be used to help integrate farm-to-table cooking methods into the curriculum as well as sell goods to local food purveyors. They’ve already broken ground on the Farm and expect it to be fully functioning by next spring.

With the help of a local church, Schlossbach co-hosts an annual “Holiday Community Dinner” on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, at her Langosta Lounge restaurant to serve free meals for those in need.  Typically, she says the community dinner sees some 800 people come through. Volunteers serve a buffet spread to guests who are offered table-side service so they can “enjoy the full ‘restaurant experience.’” To-go meals are also available, as well as warm winter clothing.

“For me, it’s important that we align our events and restaurants with local organizations that share a similar passion for helping our community,” Schlossbach says. “It makes the process of raising awareness a wonderful experience.”

Biggest challenge: The hardest part of the launch process, the five-time restaurant owner says, has been securing financial funding. And being patient through the grant-writing portion is crucial.

“It’s important to be patient and understand the time it takes to execute a self-sustaining social enterprise – there are months and years of groundwork that must be laid to help the organization flourish,” Schlossbach says.

Best advice: The most valuable business lessons Schlossbach has learned came from long-time friend and triCity News publisher Dan Jacobson, she says. He told her to “stay inside your four walls and be passionate and strong in whatever it is you decide to do.” That, and “to get a good lease, which has been just as important!”