At first glance, Walnut & Park may not look any different to the dozens of other coffee shops found in downtown Kalamazoo, but looks can be deceiving.
Walnut & Park works with the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program (KPEP) to help give parolees and probationers the work experience they need to build a successful career in customer service.
“Our mission,” Tera Staten, Vocational Program Manager at W&P, explained, “is to get ex-offenders job skills they need to find success.”
Almost everyone you see working behind the counter making, handling, or serving your coffee is or once was a student of KPEP at W&P. Workers dressed in white are not paid and are like interns while they work their way through their training. Workers dressed in checkered black and white are paid employees.
Students of KPEP enrolled at Walnut & Park go through an 10 week training course where they learn basic skills such as station setup, inventory management, proper cooking techniques, and more skills necessary to work in a kitchen.
Jade Soul, recent Walnut & Park graduate, explained that W&P training isn’t just about cooking, “[I learned] patience, [to be] more open and understanding, how to multitask, how to learn as you go, self-discipline,” said Soul.
To go beyond training and earn a place serving real customers, students have to get their proper safety certifications. At the end of the 10 weeks, students earn their OSHA, Serv Safe, AHLEI, and CPR certificates. With these certificates, students can legally work anywhere that serves food. This gives them an edge up on their competition when applying for jobs.
“I’m on my last day, so I’m getting my OSHA certification today. . . It’s exciting that I can work anywhere, but I want to work here,” said Soul.
For such an ambitious project, Walnut & Park doesn’t lack quality product whatsoever. With a wide variety of food and drinks including coffees, teas, pastries, and many more, there’s something for everyone.
While many coffee shops seem to cater to a specific audience, Walnut & Park has a wide variety of customers.
Loy Norrix senior Amarra Lyons gave a positive review of her vanilla latte and said, “It’s a really cool opportunity for people who have been convicted and need a second chance.”
Loy Norrix senior Sonata Davis also enjoyed her chi tea and said, “[W&P] is an important part of our community because of the discrimination in other businesses for those who have committed crimes. It’s so hard to get a job once you have a record.”
The final goal of KPEP is to get students out of the program to find jobs in the culinary arts. Patti Uldriks, W&P employee and past student has plans to do just that.
“My end goal is to open my own coffee chop. I’m picking up information and saving money, but for now I’m happy working here,” said Uldriks.
Whether you enjoy a good cup of coffee, or you want to help KPEP and Walnut & Park teach parolees and probationers the skills they need to work in customer service, Walnut & Park is a must try for all.