Twice a month, a large room in a warehouse-like building not far from the San Jose airport is transformed into a fine dining hall — now called Hope Cafe.
Tables are dressed with tablecloths and a multi-course dinner featuring decadent entrees from grilled salmon to barbecued ribs are served on nice china. Music plays lightly in the background and the guests — roughly 200 of them — sit back and relax.
The nonprofit CityTeam provides these dinners for homeless residents based on the premise that everyone deserves a fancy meal — with a server tending to their needs — every once in awhile.
“We felt that there was a need to bring a special meal to the homeless community,” said Reynolds Stewart, who has worked as a chef with CityTeam for more than eight years. “We bring out china, we bring out silverware and we set the tables like a normal restaurant setting.”
But Stewart is no regular cook. The San Jose resident was holding down an executive position with the Hyatt Hotels and overseeing a $7 million budget while he was addicted to alcohol and drugs. After hitting rock bottom, he turned his life around through an outpatient recovery program and when he discovered CityTeam, he knew it was a perfect fit.
CityTeam has provided breakfast and dinner to the homeless community for the last three decades, serving more than 227,000 meals to individuals and families in need last year.
But the nonprofit began its new fine dining program with the star chef in May 2018 with the help of many partners. The daily fare is donated by Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Second Harvest Food Bank, and church and corporate sponsors fund the food for the fancy meals.
Since the program began last year, numerous churches including Venture Church and Westgate Church, have stepped up to provide the meals that Stewart and his staff prepare. Corporate donors include Google and Amazon, among others, Stewart says.
During the dining experience, a hostess greets the diner at the door, shows them to a table and hands them a menu to choose a three course meal that includes a beef, poultry or seafood entree, fresh healthy sides and a homemade dessert.
The only thing that’s missing, organizers said, is a bill at the end of the meal.
Stewart said his job blends his experience in hospitality with an opportunity to help others who may have experienced some of the same struggles he did.
In addition to preparing the five-star meals, Stewart also serves as a drug counselor for CityTeam and shares his personal experience with the men he works with.
“When you share your background, you want your testimony to help inspire them,” Stewart said.
Roy Creamier is among the dozens of men who frequent the CityTeam center on Charles Street to enjoy everyday meals and fancy upscale dinners twice a month.
Creamier became homeless after he relocated to the South Bay to be closer to his sister before she died. In the aftermath of his sister’s death, he said, it was difficult to find housing.
“I think it’s good for everybody, it’s such a blessing,” Creamier said of the fancy dinners. “You see people who normally don’t look as positive as they could, they’re sort of sitting back and relaxing and enjoying life.”
Stewart says he makes an effort to get to know everyone who comes to the dinners.
“In the evenings when I leave and I’m driving down the street, I see a guy pushing a shopping cart and he waves and I try to wave back,” he says. “I try to know names (so I can say), ‘how are you doing Salvador?'”
Contact Carina Woudenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @carinaew on Twitter.