How two foodies turned their passion into a social business

15 Nov 2012

Next time you dine out, ask the owner how many waiters and bar staff they have hired from a refugee, migrant, asylum seeker or disadvantaged background.

What you may encounter is an inability to answer the question – one layer of the employment barrier for such individuals.

Other limitations are language, confidence, appearance, knowledge, connections, mentoring and difficulty accessing the number one employment leg-up: a foot in the door!

Two Melbourne women, with hospitality and social sector backgrounds, decided to do something about it, and launched Scarf two years ago.

Scarf, not an acronym but a hint to the warmth and creativity of this organisation, provides a hands-on hospitality training business that uses 'borrowed' restaurants and volunteer mentors from the industry.

Founders Jess Moran and Hannah Colman created the industry-focused social enterprise model that allows trainees from diverse backgrounds to build the quintessential skills, confidence and social networks.

"It's unique because our trainees learn in different venues around Melbourne - like beer training at Little Creatures Dining Hall through to cocktail training at Cookie," says Hannah and Jess.

Trainees participate in a 10-week program that includes wine education, formal service practices, cocktail training, beer education and coffee making which is followed by a dinner service on Monday nights.

The trainees serve real customers in real restaurants.

Mentors work alongside the trainees providing relevant, current knowledge about the industry as well as a lifeline to the hospitality industry, which are often pivotal to the trainee finding work.

Members of the wider community get to join Scarf's mailing list and book into the $35 two-course Monday night dinners, where they assist in the 360-degree learning experience by providing feedback to the trainees.

The initial support came from Hannah and Jess' involvement with the School of Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), of which Jess is a fellow, completing the one-year program in 2010.

Jess also has a Diploma of Youth Work, has worked with young people in the child protection system and is currently a case manager at Melbourne Citymission.

Hannah is a multimedia graduate and freelance writer, who works in restaurants to satisfy her foodie and social needs. Hannah serves as the marketing and communications manager for Scarf, and also been the editor of *Bespoken magazine, a platform for the voice of marginalised community members to be heard in mainstream media.

Aside from SSE, seed funding also came in the form of philanthropic support, which the founders say helped them run their initial programs and establish management structures and systems.

"Our main focus now is generating income and working towards financial sustainability," the pair said.

"We're competing with commercial businesses, while trying to achieve social outcomes. For example, because we are training people we have more than double the staff, yet we don't charge double the price."

Rather than expanding the operation, Jess and Hannah plan to increase their advocacy efforts.

"We are working towards changing the attitudes of hospitality business owners. If businesses were more diverse in their hiring practice, many more young people would benefit."

Jess and Hannah say:

  1. Working with young people and being flexible and responsive to the needs that arise and work with a diverse range.
  2. Facilitating community through sponsors, mentors, volunteers, partner restaurants and customers. It's great to have a bunch of people interested and involved in working towards a common goal.
  3. When the young people make breakthroughs – from small things like confidently pouring wine, to big things like getting jobs in a great restaurant.

The next Melbourne dinner is on Monday, November 19 at the National Hotel in Richmond. Mentors and volunteers are welcome to get involved in Scarf. More information:

Julia Keady

Julia Keady runs Xfactor Consulting and helps organizations and brands with impactful story-telling through media, content marketing and events. She has a Masters in Social Investment and Philanthropy, is passionate about the growth of philanthropy in Australia and was the inaugural founding CEO of Australian Women Donors Network.

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