Phil Burgess: Need for transition assistance happens at all ages

Phil Burgess: Need for transition assistance happens at all ages

The 50-seat Light House Bistro is more than a restaurant. It is also what some people call a “social enterprise” — a business enterprise that has social goals embedded in its business objectives. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette file)

Phil BurgessCorrespondent

Several months ago, I discovered the Light House Bistro at 202 West St. along with several of my bonus years friends — and a few younger ones, too. We now go to the bistro every Saturday morning for breakfast, arriving around 9:15 a.m.

Sometimes we have a small group of four or six. Often, we have a larger group — and it’s not unusual to sometimes have 15 or more. I found out recently that the wait staff there calls us the “tan muffin crowd” — because so many of us order English muffins, “slightly burned.”

The Google description of the Light House Bistro says it serves “elevated American dishes and brunch in a stylish atmosphere.”

I’m not sure what that means, but I can say this: It serves a good breakfast, and I would give it a high rating for great service. I’m not alone in that view. Indeed, two out of three people who go the bistro for a breakfast, lunch or dinner give it an “excellent” rating.

But the 50-seat Light House Bistro is more than a restaurant. It is also what some people call a “social enterprise” — a business enterprise that has social goals embedded in its business objectives.

The idea of a social enterprise has been around for a long time, but it gained currency in 2006 when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker, economist and civic leader who pioneered what he called “microcredit” and “microfinance” — referring to small loans given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. The social purpose in this case: to promote bottoms-up economic development.

In making the award, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee said, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways to break out of poverty,” and “Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”

According to general manager Beth Rocca, “Our social purpose is to help rebuild lives challenged, for example, by homelessness or chemical dependence. Our approach provides training that will lead to living-wage employment for those who will commit to the struggle to get back on their feet.”

The Light House Bistro tackles these social problems by creating revenue from preparing and selling food and food-related services, such as catering, in the open market. It then reinvests profits back into their programs to assist individuals in the local community “to bring about their own development” — using the words of the Nobel committee.

Rocca put it this way: “The Light House repurposed its former downtown Annapolis shelter into a revenue-generating social enterprise to support ongoing workforce development and housing opportunities for individuals — and for the community, to help advance the revitalization and economic development of the West Street corridor.”

As a practical matter, the Light House Bistro provides (mostly younger) men and women who have experienced a rough streak in their life with an opportunity to get back on track. The program includes everything from counseling and culinary arts job-training — plus a supportive place to live while transitioning to a new life.

Participants are exposed to almost every job in a restaurant — from dishwashing and janitor services to hostess, waiting tables and food preparation. When Light House Bistro participants “graduate,” they are prepared to hold down a good job in the hospitality industry.

At Annapolis' Light House shelter, chef Linda Vogler is preparing her culinary students for the restaurant business, in more ways than one. While her trainees are seeking jobs in the industry, next year, they will also have the opportunity to work at the upcoming Light House Bistro. It is expected to provide at least 20 jobs to the shelter's culinary graduates. (Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)

During recent visits, however, I noticed an older African-American woman who was working alongside the young workers. So last week I asked her if we could talk.

My new acquaintance introduced herself as Vonita Tyler — though she is known as “Miss Nita” to the staff.

Tyler was born in 1960. So, at age 58, when many others were thinking about retirement, she entered the culinary arts program, graduating in 2006.

According to Tyler, “It was a wonderful experience. It helped me to polish old skills and pick up new ones … just what I needed to keep on working at better-paying jobs in the years ahead.”

Tyler has lived a tough life. She has serious hearing-impairment that wasn’t correctly diagnosed until she was 32. That put her behind during her years in school because she was not hearing a lot of what the teacher or even the other students were saying.

After graduating from Southern High School in 1979, Tyler connected with Ronnie Johnson, a part-time security guard and her partner for 26 years. Together, they had four children — all now adults between ages 21 and 31 — and one grandchild so far.

Tyler has been on her own for more than 10 years, but these haven’t been easy years. She has lived in what she describes as “slum conditions” — where she had to deal with bedbug and cockroach infestation; trash storage and collection issues; below-standard maintenance of refrigerators, smoke detectors, flooring and other upkeep issues; and several evictions when she withheld rent payments in order to get action on her living conditions.

During these years, Tyler worked at many jobs, including a variety of iconic Annapolis restaurants where she worked in food preparation — places such as Phillips Seafood, Buddy’s Crab and Middleton Tavern. She also worked at convenience stores such as WaWa; area retirement communities Ginger Cove and Bay Woods; and retail establishments such as Kmart.

“You change jobs a lot when you are having children and don’t have benefits. But you also learn something new with each job, so it’s not all negative.”

Tyler is now working in food preparation at the Light House Bistro. She told me,” I love to work. I am a working woman. But I especially like working with the people here. They make me happy.”

Tyler’s affection is returned by staff — including wait staff I’ve come to know. Tiffany Huff said, “Miss Nita is a jack of all trades. She will do anything that has to be done around here. She is always available to help when needed.”

Kelly Sammons said, “It’s good having older folks around, especially a mother figure like Miss Nita. When you are having a bad day, she is always there to listen.”

Tyler has a life outside of the bistro. In addition to time with her adult children and grandchildren, she participates in a weekly Bible study and is a volunteer with We Care and Friends at the Stanton Center, where she helps with sorting clothing, food and other items. She also loves to crochet and is now working on a blanket for a gift.

Though I have met many upbeat and positive people in their bonus years, I don’t think I have ever met anyone more positive about their life, their work and the future than Tyler.

She is another example that contentment in life is rooted not in what you have, but in who you are and what you do, especially when the doing is for self-improvement, so you can help others and remain independent for as long as possible.

The Light House Reflects on Capital Gazette Tragedy

Dear Light House Community,
We are deeply saddened by the tragic event at The Capital newspaper office yesterday where five lives were taken: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters. Our hearts go out to all the families and to our entire community which is shaken by this loss.

The Capital Gazette team works tirelessly to report on stories and issues that impact our organization and community. We honor those we have lost and the entire Capital Gazette team for their service to our community through true journalistic integrity….

Knife Skills Screening

We were so lucky to be a part of the screening of “Knife Skills” last night at the Parkway Theater in Baltimore. It was so nice to cater along side City Seeds and Paul’s Place! A room full of people giving second chances and really making a difference!


First Sunday Annapolis Arts Festival begins this Sunday, May 6


Come Out for First Sunday and stop by The Light House Bistro for Brunch!  Fiesta beans, home made salsa, cheese, sour cream and cilantro pesto.  CHURRO Pancakes!


Light House Bistro was featured on ABC news...2 Good 2 Be True!


Light House Bistro, jobs training program for homeless, changing hours


Rick HutzellContact Reporter

Rick Hutzell

Light House Bistro, the restaurant in Annapolis that serves as a training program for homeless people, is shifting its hours.

Six months after the Light House shelter opened the restaurant in its former location on West Street, restaurant director Elizabeth Kinney said the shift comes in response to customers.

The program, which has trained 40 people in restaurant job skills, will now be open for breakfast and lunch daily. The dining room will be closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights for private events and cooking classes.

“Have a meal or a meeting with us and help sustain our social enterprise that trains and employs people determined to move from homelessness to stability and a promising future,” Kinney wrote in an email Friday.

The restaurant opened in March after three years of planning after the shelter moved to Hudson Street. The Light House determined the hospitality and culinary industry provides the best "second chances" to its residents.

The Business Monthly

Check us out in the September issue of The Business Monthly!

"Dining at Light House Bistro is a value-added proposition: Customers not only enjoy fine food in the state capital’s arts and entertainment district, they support a social enterprise effort to provide living-wage employment to individuals experiencing homelessness…Light House Bistro houses an Advanced Culinary Training Center with a full teaching kitchen and real-work opportunities for graduates of The Light House's culinary arts job training program – Building Employment Success Training (B.E.S.T.)."


Annapolis | Zip Trip: 5 Must Stops By: staff

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - There are so many fun things to do when visiting Annapolis it's hard to keep count! Here are THE 5 MUST STOPS that you just can't miss when taking your own Zip Trip!

GREAT FROGS WINERY: This winery calls an old tobacco barn home. Stop by and enjoy an experience tailored for wine lovers to learn more about reds, whites, roses and more.

LIGHTHOUSE BISTRO: Changing lives one meal at a time. Come in, enjoy a delicious meal, and give back a little - as all proceeds from this restaurant are reinvested back into the mission of Lighthouse, a homeless prevention support center.

BANNEKER-DOUGLASS MUSEUM: The state of Maryland's official museum of African-American heritage! Serving to document, interpret and promote African-American history and culture through exhibits, programs and projects!

THE UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY: You can visit the undergraduate college of our country's naval service. There is no shortage of history or beauty here! Check out views of the water, a mock dorm room, the school's unofficial and official mascots and the academy's rich history.

MAIN STREET: Take a scenic stroll from the state capital on down to the docks. Hitch a ride on a boat or enjoy ice cream seaside. Do some shopping or enjoy a meal at historic Chick & Ruth's Delly!!

If you were out-and-about during our FOX 5 ZIP TRIP fun and took a photo - post it online using #fox5ziptrip.

HEARTY HELPING A new bistro in Annapolis combines good food with good works By: Carol Denny

 Light House Bistro employees (from left) Alex Tingler, Damon Blake and Brandi Kelley all graduated from the Light House training program.

Light House Bistro employees (from left) Alex Tingler, Damon Blake and Brandi Kelley all graduated from the Light House training program.

Any restaurant opening is a big deal: a hopeful, creative and occasionally chaotic attempt to invent a place that nourishes the community. But the stakes feel higher for the team behind the Light House Bistro, the newest arrival to Annapolis’ downtown dining scene. The launch of the 50-seat eatery at 202 West Street is a bold brick-and-mortar commitment to both second chances and second helpings.

The Bistro, which opened in February, is more than a restaurant. It’s a visionary social enterprise operated by the city’s Light House shelter for the homeless, which provides culinary training and job opportunities for those who need them most. Its goal is to break the cycle of poverty by giving clients the skills they need for employment, enabling them to support themselves and their families.

That backstory isn’t apparent from the front of the house. The space, set in the midst of the capital’s Arts District, features tables fashioned out of old barn wood, Navy Academy plebe chairs from the 1950s and pendulum lights from an old Pepco plant, all chosen to reflect this second-chance theme. In one corner, a coffee bar proffers grab-and-go pastries and sandwiches; a sleek open kitchen serves lunch, brunch and dinner for those with time to sit. Though it fits seamlessly among the neighborhood’s art galleries, oyster bar and hotel, the Bistro’s beginnings were far humbler; the 1889 building was the site of an earlier Light House shelter, which moved to a larger facility in 2012.

As the organization considered possibilities for its West Street property, the concept of a restaurant and training center emerged. Elizabeth Kinney, then executive director of the shelter, championed the project, believing it presented a novel way to expand an existing job-training program while creating a sustainable funding source. “Nonprofits are looking at models like this that can provide opportunity and create a revenue stream,” she notes. “What sets us apart is that our bottom line isn’t profit—it’s employment. We’re hiring people to change their lives.”

When a survey showed that 98 percent said they’d willingly support such a venture, Kinney plunged into a three-year $2.4 million capital campaign and persuaded businesses and food industry leaders to donate their expertise. Baltimore’s Cho Benn Holback and Associates contributed preconstruction plans and project oversight. Next Step Design worked provided pro bono oversight on design and installation. And TriMark Gill Group arranged deep discounts so Light House could purchase equipment. The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development restructured an existing loan for transitional housing and transferred it to the new entity, which also features low-income residential units.

The last remaining hurdle was finding the right person to run the Bistro. “We needed someone special who was motivated to work with our people,” Kinney explains. Enter chef Beth Rocca, an Annapolis émigré who was living in San Diego when she learned of the venture. Intrigued, she sent a resume, met with Kinney and signed on in August of 2016. She began by heading the shelter’s catering program and two satellite enterprises: a cafe at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and an omelet station at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Soon, she assumed responsibility for the Bistro, too.

The L’Academie de Cuisine grad now manages a staff of 47, including managers, alumni of the shelter’s culinary training program and other shelter grads. “There’s a lot of patience required,” Kinney observes. “Beth makes it all work.”

Rocca, who comes from a family of teachers, deems it “a perfect job for me.” The menu of “American with a twist,” she says, complements the West Street dining scene. “We fit in so nicely with what’s available nearby—Asian, oysters, hotel restaurants.” Sandwiches are served on ciabatta, challah or pretzel rolls, for example, and desserts, like the chocolate meringue brownies with sea salt, are made from scratch. There are a handful of seafood options on the menu, including a crab cake, says Rocca. After all, “it’s Annapolis!”

Bistro designer and creative consultant David Iatesta has assembled a style that bridges traditional and contemporary. Iatesta says he was in the process of reinventing himself after the sale of his furniture business last year when Kinney asked for his help. She reeled him in with a cherished find: a wooden pew salvaged from the city’s historic St. Anne’s Church. “It was in so many pieces that it was like a puzzle. It took four people half an hour to bring it all in,” he says. The pew is now fastened to one wall of the restaurant. Iatesta also installed two of his original chandeliers, and is especially proud of another only-in-Annapolis touch: dining chairs from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Staff members, too, embody the sense of renewal. Only last fall, sous chef Dylan McMillion, 42, was living in the Light House Shelter and struggling to make a fresh start. “I didn’t realize places like this existed,” he says. McMillion, who says he’d needed help for a long time, learned of the Light House project from a friend who told him, “These people will hold you up.” Sure enough, “Everyone bent over backwards to get me back up on my feet.” McMillion, who’d worked in restaurants before, was hired by the Bistro team in December and now lives in an apartment on the building’s upper level. “It’s an opportunity I probably never would have gotten on my own,” he says. “So I want to give back as much as they’ve given me.” He plans to help train other employees, and “help them with their issues.”

Personal transformations like McMillion’s are the heart of the bistro’s mission. Kinney, who now serves as president of the Light House Social Enterprises board, is optimistic about the future. “We like to say everyone will come in for our story, and come back for our food,” she says. After all, she wonders, “Who doesn’t want to give someone a chance for a better life?”

 The Bistro’s renovated dining room features plenty of brick.

The Bistro’s renovated dining room features plenty of brick.

 A shrimp and grits dish is topped with chives.

A shrimp and grits dish is topped with chives.

Light House Bistro Aims to Battle Homelessness. By Mona Kazour (Patch Staff)

From Light House Bistro: Individuals who want to help end homelessness can do so by enjoying a great meal at the new Light House Bistro that opened at 202 West Street in Annapolis’s Arts and Entertainment District on February 27. Owned and operated by the Light House Homeless Prevention Support Center and located in the Center’s one-time home, the 50-seat social enterprise restaurant and coffee bar is on a mission to provide living wage employment for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Light House Bistro houses an Advanced Culinary Training Center with a full teaching kitchen and real-work opportunities for graduates of the Light House’s culinary arts job training program – Building Employment Success Training (B.E.S.T.). More than 250 students have graduated from the program since its 2012 launch. A B.E.S.T. catering kitchen located in the newly created basement of the 202 West Street Bistro offers custom catering, lunch contracts, prepared meals and signature items. The second floor features four new apartments for former Light House Shelter residents.


The President of the Light House Social Enterprise LLC Board, Elizabeth Kinney, says the organization’s mission is training. “You can’t have sustainable housing without sustainable employment. Our goal is to increase our clients’ income by increasing their opportunities for promotions. The greater the skill, the greater the income.” Adding to the marketability of the Light House’s B.E.S.T training program culinary graduates is the fact that they’ve already received the Serve Safe certification. The majority of the Bistro front-of-the house employees continue on to get their alcohol awareness certification through the TIPS (training for intervention procedures) program.

Future Bistro employees participate in a 14-week B.E.S.T. training program at Light House’s 10 Hudson Street headquarters. Kinney says about 30-percent of students enrolled in the B.E.S.T. program are Light House residents. As Kinney sees it, “It’s a community service that brings in individuals who are at risk, or who need a second skill set to help them get back to work. Our mission is jobs. We’re not in this to make a profit. We want our employees to make a living wage. Any additional revenues go back to Light House to fund our programs.”

The Light House Bistro offers patrons service with a smile seven days a week. The restaurant serves lunch from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 11:00 p.m. on Sunday. The Bistro’s grab and go coffee shop is open daily from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., serving homemade muffins and croissants along with a wide range of coffees, teas and juices.

Foodies may want to start their lunch with the Bistro’s seasonal roast squash bisque soup, followed by arugula, spinach, pulled chicken or Bistro salad topped with salmon, chicken, shrimp or steak. Main luncheon and dinner courses include: the pulled chicken B.E.S.T.wich, Bistro burger, crab cake with fried green tomatoes, flat-iron steak, cauliflower “mac” and cheese, braised pork or seared salmon with caramelized shallots, leeks and fennel, haricot verts, herbed quinoa and avocado butter. Individuals in the mood for breakfast foods can choose from a Mexican-themed Chef’s Scramble, Meatloaf Hash and eggs, flatbreads, avocado toast and granola cereal.

Beyond providing tasty food and gracious hospitality, the Bistro exudes a comfortable, inviting atmosphere that invites patrons to feel at home. Because Light House is in the business of reclaiming lives, Light House Bistro is furnished with reclaimed and repurposed materials. The restaurant’s chairs were used by U.S. Naval Academy Plebes in the 1950s. The lights are from an old Potomac Electric Power Company plant. Previously incarcerated individuals built the tables and bar stools from reclaimed barn wood. When builders gutted the 1889 building to create the restaurant, they salvaged floor joists that now serve as restaurant walls. A wall-length church pew came from St. Anne’s church on Church Circle. The pew harkens back to a time when St. Anne’s served as the shelter’s first home in 1988. The following year, Annapolis Area Ministries (comprised of 13 different churches) purchased the 202 West Street location. In 2010, the organization rebranded, changing its name to Light House.

The Light House Bistro is filled with eye candy. The donated hostess stand is the original cash box from Bowen’s Farm Supplies in Annapolis. The donated mirror behind the bar is made of old Venetian glass. The base of the bar was made from reclaimed wood topped with a beautiful piece of walnut. Kinney says the restaurant is decorated with finds from antiques shops throughout Annapolis and Maryland. Outside, the Light House’s story is beautifully captured by a 7’ x 19’ mural on the Madison Street side of the Bistro. The work was funded by the nonprofit community public art project, ArtWalk, whose mission is to bring grand scale art to the walls of exterior buildings in historic Annapolis.

Individuals who wish to support the Light House’s mission are invited to enjoy many a meal at the Light House Bistro. Naming opportunities are still available as well. Benefactors can have a chair named in their honor for $1,000. Tables go for $5,000, and quotes on the Bistro’s wall are priced at $2,500. Individuals who choose to do this have the satisfaction of knowing their money is going to a sustainable cause that gives back to the community. According to Kinney, “We’re working to surprise and exceed community expectations. We’ve retained a high standard for individuals enrolled in the Light House program. We’ve trained them in a way that will make them sought after employees in the hospitality industry.”

Light House Bistro: A Gathering Spot with History

Light House Bistro: A Gathering Spot with History

West Street is abuzz with excitement surrounding the opening of the Light House Bistro! This new cafe and eatery serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a grab-n-go that includes coffee and the most heavenly pastries (the trio of beignets…OMG).

Illustration by Lindsay Bolin


It is a gathering place with a mission everyone can get behind. The Light House, a Homeless Prevention Support Center, moved from their original site on West Street to a larger facility on Hudson Street, where the organization had room to expand their services to occupational training. One track offered is the culinary arts field, from which their renowned B.E.S.T. Catering services were born. Their catering quickly gained a reputation for their savory foods and attentive service, and so the idea of a Bistro formed. After years of work and a renovation at their original West Street location that started from the ground up, the Bistro opened its doors at the end of February to a warm, welcoming crowd.

Levy’s Grocery Store and Capitol Drugs



Helene Sachs

Long before Light House called it home, the building’s history had always been rooted in bringing the community together. The Levy Family owned and operated Levy’s Grocery Store and Capitol Drugs in the early twentieth century, where you would find people of all walks of life sitting next to each other at the soda fountain.

“It brought all kinds of people together,” says Helene Sachs, whose grandmother Rebecca Levy started the grocery store in the 1930’s. Rebecca was a widow, and could be seen in the store seven days a week serving up the best quality food to support her family.


Mural on the side of Light House Bistro

“She put three children through college,” says Sachs, who still resides in Annapolis today with her family. She is shown above as a child at the store.

You can also find Helene, her mother Sadie, and grandmother Rebecca on the side of the Bistro, depicted in a new piece of public art illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. The latest piece produced by ArtWalk, a 501-c3 public art initiative, pays tribute to the former store owners and other figures of Annapolis, past and present. The piece includes the President Hill street’s namesake, President & First Lady Madison, hometown hero and honorary Navy Admiral Marcellus Hall, local artists and musicians representing the surrounding Arts District, and the Bistro’s own skilled chefs.

Just behind the Bistro you’ll find another piece of public art: Jeff Huntington’s take on the same Founding Father, Madison, accompanied by Teddy Roosevelt and honest Abe – a mini-Mount Rushmore for Annapolis, so to speak. Jeff brought in a team of student artists, Jovenes Artistas, to collaborate with him and his wife Julia for their public art nonprofit, Future History Now.


In this cross-section of arts, history, and culture, the Light House Bistro is the perfect setting for Annapolis’s great personalities to coincide as they did all those years ago.


Photography courtesy of Maryland State Archives, Helene Sachs, and Lindsay Bolin. Illustration by Lindsay Bolin.