Training the Hospitality Stars of the Future

On the 16th floor of the Franklin County Municipal Court sits Café Overlook, a restaurant-to-be with a great view of Columbus’ skyline. “There’s not a place in Columbus with a better view. That includes rooftops,” said Service! co-founder and president Matthew Heaggans.

Café Overlook will provide more than great food and views. This restaurant will serve as “a training ground for the hospitality stars of the future,” Service! co-founder and treasurer, Letha Pugh, said.

The minimum pay will start at $15 an hour, and employees will receive benefits such as health insurance, wraparound services, and assistance with transportation. Employees will learn all the skills needed to succeed in the industry, from the front to the back-of-the-house.

This restaurant concept is only the latest iteration of Service!. In 2020, Heaggans, Pugh, and co-founder and executive director Sangeeta Lakhani took their experience as prominent restaurateurs to create a nonprofit that provided food and aid to unemployed hospitality workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ECDI supplied Service! with a space at the Food Fort commissary kitchen. “Offering a commercial cooking space really helped move us along. The support of ECDI was instrumental,” said Pugh. “The support of ECDI from the beginning of Service! to now cannot be overstated,” Heaggans said.

Through ECDI’s social enterprise program, Service! connected with an attorney, an accountant, and grant services. In Service!’s second iteration, the company distributed over $60,000 in grant money to hospitality workers in financial need.

“It was a natural progression after we did infusions of food and cash support into the community to do this training center,” Pugh said. Service! collaborated with Franklin County to establish Café Overlook. “This is a great example of how the public sector can work with the private sector to make something beneficial for both parties.”

This monumental undertaking will be a hands-on experience for the founders. Heaggans said, “We’re there right along with our staff to help make our business successful.”

Service! will continue to evolve in its mission to serve hospitality employees. “The restaurant association gives voice to owners, but not to employees. We want to be that supportive organization for folks who work in hospitality.” Pugh said. “A job in hospitality is a job you can be proud of, be paid well in, and be treated fairly in,” said Heaggans.

Click here to view ECDI's 2021 Impact Report.
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