Good Kitchen: Good food, good people and a good time at The Arnold Center

If you are looking for a great place to grab lunch or need an event catered, look no further than The Arnold Center’s Good Kitchen. This onsite restaurant consists of employees and participants of The Restaurant Training Program who are referred to The Arnold Center through the behavioral health system, the vocational rehabilitation system, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, or through private pay who want to come to the kitchen for training. Participants receive ServSafe training, go on to become food managers and then work with job coaches to help find suitable positions where they can apply what they have learned.

Carly LillardPatrons line up for lunch at Good KitchenThe Arnold Center Restaurant Training Program started in 2019 when the organization received a grant from the Allen Foundation. Originally, the restaurant program was to be the next phase after Arnold Farms and act as a farm-to-table dining experience that would be offered to the community. Unfortunately, at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic was just getting started and changed the world as we knew it. 

The Arnold Center also experienced a change in leadership during this tumultuous time and appointed Jennifer Grace as their Executive Director. “Because we were deemed an essential employer, we could move forward with the commercial kitchen, but we needed to rethink what the program was going to look like,” she says.

Three Rivers came in and built the kitchen for us – and coming out of Covid, we had to reimagine the kitchen program. Originally, we planned to open a restaurant open to the public, but we couldn’t open to the public. So, we started doing lunches internally, we started catering, and then we started doing the ESA food program which allowed us to expand. Again, we had more changes coming as COVID and State regulations changed. The State changed who was eligible for training in a community rehabilitation organization,” says Grace. 

Carly LillardSweet treats line the counters at Good KitchenThe Arnold Center continued pivoting as the world figured out a “new normal” by selling cinnamon rolls, cookies, and cake pops. A full-time baker and executive chef are on staff with the program. Up to fifteen participants come through the program at a time, and the delicious products produced can be found onsite, at concession stands, and at LaLonde’s Market.

When asked how the program is funded and if it is sustainable, Grace states, “It’s a social enterprise. So, we receive training dollars for those we are training. However, we are supporting ourselves through our sales. With a social enterprise, the concept is to work with vulnerable or underserved populations to create a business model where the business supports the training. We’ve been working really hard, and we are self-supporting, and the program is sustainable.”

Individuals come in as early as 7 a.m. and can stay until as late as 7:30 p.m., depending on their progress in the program. Two of the individuals who have completed the program have been hired by The Arnold Center and are now training new participants. 

One of the individuals is Colleen. Colleen went through the program and loved it so much that she did not want to leave. Grace saw this as an opportunity to keep her as a staff member and she was recently promoted into a significant leadership role. This has allowed Colleen to support herself financially while doing something she enjoys.Carly LillardColleen prepares treats in the Good Kitchen

Ryan has worked for Good Kitchen for nearly four years. “I definitely think that one of the best things about working here is the environment: the people, the food that I get to cook, and we get to dance once in a while. I like to dance to the golden oldies,” he shares. Ryan tries to expand his horizons when it comes to cooking and eating. “I like to try all foods at least once and if I like it, I will try it again.”

He comes in a little after 8 a.m. and gets to work around 9 a.m. He likes to have a little extra time to think about his day and process what the day ahead will look like. Ryan shares that he likes the variety of tasks he completes and takes his knowledge home with him, such as properly handling food, sanitizing and cleaning, and holding a knife safely.

Carly LillardChefs prepare chicken wraps at Good KitchenWhen dining at Good Kitchen, you will see individuals with and without disabilities. The restaurant is all-inclusive, and duties entail all aspects of food service. The individuals make coffee, get the cash register ready, and prep foods. Each person has a job description and duties for the day. The roles within the program are short order cook, server, sanitation crew, and baker, and they rotate through each position. This creates well-rounded individuals ready to work in the restaurant industry. 

All food is prepared onsite in the commercial kitchen and then distributed either at the restaurant or through various organizations such as Dow, The Midland Miracle Field concessions, and private parties. Recently, The Arnold Center’s Good Kitchen catered Mary Draves’ kickoff party as she is running for Congress.

Just as they did last year, Good Kitchen will be partnering with the Great Lakes Bay Invitational through United Way of Midland County’s ReGrow program by creating over 3,000 meals in four days through the training program. Hidden Harvest collects unused food from the tournament, and Good Kitchen will collaborate with ten other organizations to create an assembly line to make nutritious meals. The meals are then distributed by the community centers. This program also runs monthly but on a smaller scale.

Carly LillardGood Kitchen serving at Miracle FieldThe lunch program on-site runs cafeteria-style and is open to the public. The kitchen also provides lunches for the ESA. Grace wants the community to support the program by buying its products. By doing this, the training program can expand, more individuals can be employed, and programs such as Arnold Farms can continue to operate at a high capacity as they use their crops in their meals.

The Arnold Center is a private, not-for-profit organization that has been serving Midland and surrounding communities since 1967. The Organization’s comprehensive rehabilitation and workforce development services help people experiencing significant barriers to economic opportunity, and community inclusion realize their personal goals and become contributing members of our community. 

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Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and worked in fund development and communications for a variety of non-profits including Shelterhouse and Holy Cross Services. Currently, Carly is working to complete her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at