You might know Running Rebels as an organization that offers afterschool and summer programs for city youth. But did you know that it also provides a good place to go when you’re hungry?
Running Rebels Community Organization operates the R-Life Café and Running Rebels Catering, located on the first floor of 1300 W. Fond du Lac Ave. The three-story brick building resembles a classic manufacturing structure, but the inside tells a different story.
“Running Rebels has always been known for its good food at its celebrations,” explained Dawn Barnett, co-executive director of Running Rebels. “So about six years ago a partner of ours was like ‘this is really, really good food. Would you consider doing this for our event?’”
In Wisconsin, catering companies need to be tied to a commercial kitchen. Once funding was in place for the kitchen, Barnett and her husband and co-executive director, Victor Barnett, decided to open a restaurant on site. The café opened in April 2015 with help from the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust.
“We started with some staff people that had an interest in cooking and expanded from there,” Dawn Barnett said. “We were able to provide employment opportunities for young adults and even had parents working at one time.”
In less than a year the business has grown both as a café and a caterer. The menu features jerk chicken, grilled salmon, homemade pizza, and chicken and waffles.
The catering business, which once had a handful of requests a month, now has up to a dozen a week and has catered events as large as 400 people.
“We really look to encourage people to support the café because it does so much in creating jobs for young people,” said Victor Barnett. “We would like to open more cafes and empower youth to start their own businesses.”
The café employs two teens and five adults during the school year, and six teens and four adults during the summer months. Part of the café’s proceeds go to the Running Rebels scholarship fund.