Metropolitan Ministries Opens Cafe, Downtown Tampa

There's a new cafe in town that feeds not only customers, but those looking for a second chance.

Metropolitan Ministries has opened a cafe, Inside the Box Cafe, at 505 N. Tampa St. in Tampa. Now serving lunch to the general public, all proceeds earned by the cafe go directly to helping those who depend on Metropolitan Ministries for assistance in finding shelter, food, employment and a new start.

The cafe is an extension of a program Metropolitan Ministries Chef Cliff Barsi started last year to help those struggling to get back on their feet. Barsi says an initial idea he brought to Metropolitan Ministries a few years ago began a process that led to the cafe and helping more people than he ever imagined. "The main reason I came to Metropolitan Ministries three years ago was to start a culinary institute for high school dropouts," says Barsi. "I went to Metropolitan for advice, and they asked me to start working for them."

From there, Barsi's vision for a culinary institute became a reality. He began to teach Metropolitan Ministries' clients the skills needed to work in a kitchen. "Our four-month program gives them hands on training. They feed up to 2,000 people a day. They learn how to deal with high volume and work with high-tech equipment .They probably wouldn't get that at a regular culinary school."

But Barsi wanted to give them more. "In order to give them everything they need, I decided we needed a for-profit for them to use in their training," says Barsi. "

So Barsi opened a catering business for his students, Inside the Box Catering, which won the 2010 Innovative Business Plan Award sponsored by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. And Bob Basham, a founding partner of the Outback Steakhouse franchise, offered the space on North Tampa Street for a retail food outlet. The cafe was born.

Barsi is optimistic about what these connections can do for those under his tutelage. "Hopefully they will get a job as a cook somewhere and move their way up. Partners like Outback and Hard Rock Café can help them get their foot in the door."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Cliff Barsi, Inside the Box Cafe, Metropolitan Ministries

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