A culinary job training and placement program for people experiencing poverty or homelessness in Seattle, Washington that is now helping launch or expand more than 160 equivalent programs across the country through the Catalyst Kitchens initiative

700 Virginia Street
Seattle, WA 98101

Countries Served
United States



To address the challenges of homelessness and extreme poverty, most cities have soup kitchens and food banks. These admirable organizations meet a pressing need – they help people survive. They do not help people move out of homelessness and poverty.

Programs Offered

The Catalyst Kitchens program provides a proven path to good jobs, permanent housing, and a stable life by leveraging the same assets many nonprofits use to operate soup kitchens and food banks. Through consulting services and a robust membership network, Catalyst Kitchens supports organizations that provide culinary training and outplacement services to help graduates find well-paying permanent employment in the food service industry. These organizations also provide such wrap-around support as temporary housing, mental health and addiction services, clothing, bus tokens, and the like that allow its students to manage their lives while they complete their training.

This model was developed in Seattle by chef and entrepreneur David Lee to provide nutritious and dignified meals to people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, as well as to provide job training and a path toward self-sufficiency. Lee recognized that food was an extraordinarily powerful and unifying tool through which individuals could transform their lives and launched FareStart in 1992. Since then, thousands of students have graduated from FareStart’s Adult Culinary, Youth Culinary, and Youth Barista training programs in Seattle.

Students in the program are involved in preparing meals for local homeless shelters, senior citizen facilities, and low-income day care centers. They prepared and delivered 917,363 such meals in 2019 alone, for a total of more than 12.5 million meals since 1992. FareStart generates approximately one half of its operating revenue through its businesses, including multiple restaurants and cafes, catering, and other commercial food preparation activities. Revenue generated from these businesses supports the FareStart job training and placement program and provides real-world training opportunities for FareStart’s students.

Catalyst Kitchens was created to help other nonprofits across the U.S. to incubate, launch, sustain, and scale programs adapted from the FareStart model. Leveraging the expertise and resources of FareStart, Catalyst Kitchens helps organizations to assess their suitability as a platform for culinary training, tailors curriculum to meet local needs, ensures program sustainability through self-generated revenue with foodservice social enterprise, and supports organizations with wrap-around service arrangements, outplacements strategy, fundraising, shared purchasing, performance monitoring and reporting, and other keys to success.

Historical Results

Since its launch in 2011, Catalyst Kitchens has built a national network that has grown to include 82 member organizations in 32 states, placed over 16,000 adults and youth experiencing barriers to employment in jobs, and served 100 million meals to community members in need.

In 2020, Catalyst Kitchen member organizations placed 707 individuals into jobs, and these newly trained food service professionals produced 22.2 million meals for their communities.

Use Of Funds

The budget for Catalyst Kitchen’s central support, tailored technical assistance, and program administration is surprisingly low as are the costs to significantly strengthen the capacity and advance the program of a Catalyst Kitchen member. This means that philanthropic dollars have a highly leveraged impact.

$10,000 funds a major capacity enhancement of a Catalyst Kitchen member.

$25,000 funds Catalyst Kitchen headquarters capacity enhancement permitting more rapid program roll-out.

Path to Credibility

  • Focusing Philanthropy team members have made multiple visits to the Seattle headquarters of FareStart and Catalyst Kitchens. In addition to meetings with the CEO, Director, and other key individuals, Focusing Philanthropy team members have toured the FareStart facilities and dined at two of their restaurants. The team also receives and reviews regular reports prepared by management for its Board, providing the statistical and qualitative status of efforts on a series of local and national priorities. Both the structure and the disciplined approach reflected in these reports inspire confidence, as does the programmatic progress reflected in them.
  • Focusing Philanthropy team members have also visited Catalyst Kitchens network member organizations in 15 cities.
  • The Founders of Focusing Philanthropy are significant supporters of Catalyst Kitchens.
  • Focusing Philanthropy solicited independent comment on FareStart from various existing donors and other nonprofits in Seattle. Comments received were uniformly positive.
  • In 2012, Catalyst Kitchens won the Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition.
  • In 2011, FareStart received the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award, a highly prestigious award given annually to an individual or organization whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.

More Program Partners

Giving a voice to children alone in the foster care system with CASA.

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Empowering homeless and disadvantaged individuals to achieve self-sufficiency with Catalyst Kitchens.

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Improving health, education, and opportunity through clean and safe drinking water with charity: water.

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Helping hard-working subsistence farm families gain food security and economic opportunity with One Acre Fund.

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Empowering young people with the knowledge, skills, and resources to make healthy decisions with Peer Health Exchange.

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Opening doors to careers in technology for Americans from underserved communities with Per Scholas.

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Providing one-on-one literacy tutoring to struggling readers in elementary school with Reading Partners.

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Providing lasting solutions for the world’s most vulnerable refugees with RefugePoint.

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Preparing young women with limited resources to be the first in their families to attend college with Scripps College Academy.

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Transforming lives through sight-restoring surgery with Seva Foundation.

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Increasing high school graduation rates of at-risk middle school students with Spark.

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