McMillan had a front row seat to the workforce difficulties taking shape each day in St. Louis. “We felt that providing a community training program could help fulfill this extreme demand for talent,” he said of the 1,000 restaurant job openings a day. “Applicants could confidently enter the workforce with the necessary short-term training needed to obtain these jobs.”
Lion’s Choice answer: The brand donated the 2,771-square-foot restaurant and .95-acre site to the Urban League.
In partnership with the Missouri Restaurant Association and chancellor Jeff Pittman of St. Louis Community College, the restaurant will now become a training center for people interested in seeking gainful employment in the restaurant industry.
This branch of the Urban League is actually the second largest in the country. It has deep roots transitioning young people from the area into the workface. When Lion’s Choice connected, Kupstas says, the chain didn’t realize a curriculum was already built. After falling through on three different properties, the program was just looking for a home to get started.
Five years in development, it allows for post-high school work without a culinary degree, focusing on educating and teaching basic restaurant skills in the front and back of the house. The curriculum provides a pathway into the middle class, Kupstas says.
One positive thing about the spot, too, is that it’s a working restaurant ready to simulate real life. Lion’s Choice left some tables, chairs, the walk-in, cooler, stainless shelving, and other equipment.
And yes, people who progress through the program could end up employed and helping Lion’s Choice. Kupstas says the brand has more units not fully staffed today than any other time in its history. The company employs roughly 625 people. “I can honestly say I wish we had another 10–15 percent more,” he says.