Dunleavy-Stowell in the Community Meals kitchen, where she worked her first weeks as FareStart CEO.

Image: Brandon Hill

There are no limits to a career that begins in food service. Just ask Angela Dunleavy-Stowell, whose own first gig was scooping ice cream in her hometown of Baker City, Oregon. In 2007, she and then-husband chef Ethan Stowell created a restaurant company that eventually blanketed Seattle with 17 eateries that dish everything from crab toast to steak frites, every possible iteration of Northwest cuisine. After losing twin babies to a rare fetal health defect, the pair channeled their grief into a fund-raiser, Eat Run Hope, in 2012. Now the mother of two sons and newly divorced, Dunleavy-Stowell has reinvented herself as the chief executive officer of FareStart, the 27-year-old organization dedicated to serving Seattleites who’ve endured poverty and homelessness. In FareStart’s five restaurants and cafes, students get kitchen skills, job placement assistance, and a genuine welcome into an industry that has made all the difference to the ice cream scooper from rural Oregon. AW

Working at McDonald’s at 16, you’re likely working with a 70-year-old who can’t retire, or a single mom, and everything in between. You work with a really diverse group of people from a very young age.

God, I might have been fired from McDonald’s. I was either fired or I quit. I don’t remember which one it was, but I do remember that not going very well.

As an industry, restaurant work is often dubbed “unskilled labor,” you know, a “dead-end job.” I just didn’t have that experience.

When I go into a room and ask 100 people from Amazon to raise their hands if their first job was in a restaurant, it seems like over half the room raises their hand.

I was waiting tables at Cucina Cucina, serving two people that worked for a catering company. They asked, “Can you pass a background check?” The next weekend I worked at Bill Gates’s 20-year high school reunion.

I have been very lucky in my life, being in the right place at the right time, and there’s a certain amount of privilege that goes with that luck.

Being married to a celebrity chef had its own benefits and drawbacks. I think stepping away from that relationship and that partnership has allowed me to have my own voice and feel my own identity.

Sometimes just being in the kitchen and working, putting your head down to create something tangible you can put on a plate, is really therapeutic.

Someone who has lived on the streets for 15 years, their biggest challenge is not going to be whether they can learn to saute the perfect piece of fish, right? FareStart does a lot of life skills coaching.

We launched a youth culinary program a couple of years ago in partnership with Seattle Interagency Academy. It allows them to earn credits at school, more credits than some of them have earned in two years.

The mom guilt is intense and any mom has it, but I figure there’s no time in the future where they’ll say, “I’m really disappointed that my mom was the CEO of an organization that helped homeless people.”

The restaurant industry is starting to grow up. Ethan Stowell Restaurants went from the “everyone stays well after 2am” place to the company that celebrates people buying their first home and having kids.

It’s starting to be okay to be a chef in a kitchen and not go out and get wasted after work; it’s actually kind of cooler to not do that.

When you’re somebody who’s lived on the street and people have stepped over you, you probably need reminders that you are valuable and that you have worth.

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