Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Daryl Shular’s name.
Atlanta-based Sean M. Rush had been looking for a reason to return to Milwaukee, but he wanted to come back to the city with something impactful. After years of waiting, he created the reason himself.
Rush is one of the leading forces behind a new apprenticeship program, Brigade MKE. The initiative will offer culinary and hospitality training for youths ages 14 to 24.
It is a branch of the Shular Institute, a nationally recognized program for youths in the Atlanta area that offers training in culinary arts and hospitality under the guidance of Chef Daryl Shular and Rush, who is the vice president of Shular Hospitality Group and Shular Institute.
PRISM is known for its commercial kitchen initiative, UpStart Kitchen, which provides space for entrepreneurs to grow their business.
“We see this as the next step in the evolution of PRISM EDC to become a hub for food-related business development and community service,” Leo Ries, the executive director for PRISM, said.
When it came to establishing the program in Milwaukee, Rush knew the Shular Institute didn’t want to do it as a solo operation. During the planning process, the idea came to him to build a coalition in which different people in the culinary industry could merge.
“That’s how we came up with brigade,” Rush said. “When we say ‘brigade,’ we’re saying we’re an integral part, but we’re not the whole slice of pie.”
When the Shular Institute began its partnership with PRISM and UpStart Kitchen, it knew it wanted to help the community.
“We’re building bridges from UpStart Kitchen, PRISM, Shular Hospitality and the Brigade program to other organizations like Heartlove Place to MATC to Concordia to anyone that has a passion to pretty much continue this community mission that we’re on,” Rush said.
The Shular Institute and PRISM are at the heart of the project, but their partnerships extend into the community and include other culinary groups and institutions such as Milwaukee Area Technical College, Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, Marcus Hotels and more.
Brigade MKE is the start of a 10-year process, Rush said. It seeks to provide youths with a high-quality education, a skill set and mentorship as well as opportunities to pursue their interests.
“Milwaukee is definitely a growth market,” Rush said. “It needs a boost and labor force to sustain the growth that’s happening with it being one of the hottest cities.”
“We’re hoping to raise up and release a brigade,” added Bishop Walter Harvey, the pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God Church, 3725 N. Sherman Blvd. He also is the president emeritus of the PRISM Economic Development Corporation.
“What our city needs is an army of young people. That brigade will be unleashed in the Greater Milwaukee area that will answer the void and fill the gaps in the local labor force as well as release the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Harvey said.
He added, “We’re changing their lives, and they’re going to make a change in our city.”
The initial program is for youths ages 14 to 18, Rush said, and will start as a summer program with two-to-three-day camps. Participants will receive a certification in culinary arts and a food handling certification from the American Culinary Federation.
For individuals ages 18 to 24, Brigade MKE will offer longer programming, ranging from six weeks to six months. This programming will go more in depth and is for those who are more serious about pursuing a career in this field. Its final programming is an advanced level course with a focus on fine-casual and fast-casual dining.
The hope is to eventually create a restaurant-based model, similar to the one in the Atlanta area, Rush said.
Students will work in a restaurant environment and get acclimated to real world situations early on.
“Traditional culinary pathing takes you class by class by class,” Rush said. “Our education is like a sport; you can’t be a professional athlete if you don’t actually get out and play.”
The organizers’ current goal is to serve 15 to 20 students in its inaugural program this summer, Rush said the program will be free to select participants who will be awarded a $1,500 stipend. A grant from the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services will help cover the costs.
Rush noted the groups also are working with Employ Milwaukee to create a six-to-seven-week program.
In addition to culinary and hospitality skills, students will learn financial literacy, oratory skills and more. The program plans to cater to each student and their interests, Rush said, and to connect them with successful people of color.
“We’re showing them where they can go through mentorship and through example,” he said. “I always felt that culinary and hospitality was a great bridge to help the income inequality that’s in our community.”
“Many people have used the phrase ‘If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime,’” Harvey added. “I think that falls short. Our adage is to go even further and that is to equip them and empower them to own the lake so that they not only eat for a lifetime, but they can feed generations to come.”
How to apply
At this time, there is no application form, but interested individuals can sign up for updates at brigademke.com.
Direct questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.