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Light House hopes to serve community with West Street restaurant

The Light House opened its restaurant, Light House Bistro, this week.

When the two ladies finished their late lunch at West Street's newest restaurant, they thanked their waiter for his service.

What a great meal, they said, especially since the restaurant is only days old.

They didn't learn until after paying their check that most of the employees have never worked in a restaurant. Many of them, in fact, live at the Light House, a homeless shelter in Annapolis.

"The bistro is reclaiming lives," said Elizabeth Kinney, as she clapped her hands and smiled.

The Light House opened its Light House Bistro this week. The restaurant will provide Light House residents with transitional employment, anywhere from six months to a year, for them to find long-term work, said Kinney, president of the Light House Social Enterprise.

The restaurant, at 202 West St., seats about 50 people and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. It has a full-service menu, a Ceremony Coffee bar and a Grab 'n' Go. All of the restaurant's revenue will go back to the Light House.

Light House Bistro hopes to train its 45 employees with basic skills so they can continue to climb the ranks in the restaurant industry, said Kinney, who's the former executive director of the shelter

"We're like the beginning of a conveyer belt," she said.

The planning began three years ago, after Light House moved off West Street to its building on 10 Hudson St. Using the space as a restaurant seemed like the "natural progression" to grow the organization's culinary program, Kinney said. The Light House has found that the hospitality and culinary industry provides the best "second chances" to its residents.

The "reclaimed" concept has manifested into the design. Almost all of the components of the bistro — from chairs to tables and decorations — have been re-purposed. The chairs were originally chairs Naval Academy plebes sat on in the 1950s, and the wood decorations are from the second floor of the Light House's old location. There's also design inspirational messages throughout: "ladder to success," "wheels of progress" and "windows of opportunity."

Local businesses donated equipment and services to Light House Bistro, and the shelter received several grants to help with the construction.

All of the restaurant's dishes are made from scratch and include basic techniques that the chefs can take to their next jobs, like how to poach different ingredients and make vinaigrette, said executive chef Beth Rocca. She added that many of the employees have contributed ideas to the menu and helped tweak ingredients in recipes.

"Everyone feels like they have a piece of it," she said.

Some of the restaurant's dishes include: avocado toast; an arugula salad with roasted beets, goat cheese and pecans; crabcake with fried green tomatoes; cauliflower "mac" and cheese; and Pappardelle with shrimp, shallots and bacon. The restaurant's dinner entrees range from $12 to $25.

Alexandra Tingler works as a server at the bistro and described the week's customers as "angels." She previously worked at a restaurant but working at the bistro "isn't about the money, but the experience."

Damon Blake, a busser, said the bistro's training has taught him the importance of paying attention to details. A few weeks ago, the restaurant had an intense training day, which he described as "bistro boot camp." The employees were given "worst case scenario" situations and learned how to deal with them.

Now, he feels like he and the other employees can tackle almost anything.

"They won't be disappointed in the food or the service," he said of prospective customers. "Or the people."

For more information

To see the Light House Bistro's menus, visit

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