Opportunity Kitchen hosts graduation for three students

RICHLAND, Wash. — It was an evening filled with excitement for three graduates from Columbia Industries’ Opportunity Kitchen, and the staff who helped them along the way.

“Yeah, it’s very very rewarding for all of us,” CEO and President Michael Novakovich said.

After 12 weeks of real restaurant experience and learning life skills, students like Jella Sullivan are on their way to a career in food or hospitality.

“I already knew some stuff — I just learned more of what I already know and I like how nice the people are,” she said.

When asked how she’s feeling about graduation, Jella had this response.

“Amazing,” she couldn’t hide her excitement.

Novakovich said programs like Opportunity Kitchen are essential to workforce development.

“We’re removing barriers for employment and adding those life skills and then social inclusion as well,” he said.

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Especially as industries nationwide encounter worker shortages.

“We need programs like this: alternative sources for workforce development, we’re providing quality employees to our community and it’s something that we can all celebrate,” he said.

Opportunity Kitchen welcomes students from diverse backgrounds like those with disabilities.

“So our students work with an executive chef and staff to learn kitchen skills so whether it’s culinary skills, front house, back house,” Novakovich said.

Jella, who will be sticking around the restaurant for a couple more months, said cooking is a part of her identity.

“I want to go to culinary school and have my own restaurant. Well I’ve always cooked, since I was six years old so cooking’s been a huge part of my life and I feel free when I’m cooking,” she said.

Many of the graduates go on to work in local restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries or hotels, and maybe one day, you’ll be able to taste her favorite recipe.

“My mom’s enchilada casserole. Oh, once you have it you cannot stop!” she laughed.

Opportunity Kitchen is located inside the Federal Courthouse in Richland; they’re open for lunch and breakfast.