City Heights eatery serves good food with a side of opportunity

Posted at 10:32 AM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-09 13:32:56-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- First take a bite of the spicy Thai chicken, then wash it down with some sweet Vietnamese coffee. Or maybe try the Filipino chicken adobo with a boba tea.

The ethnic specialties are delicious dishes you might find at a handful of great restaurants in San Diego. What makes The Neighborhood Cafe different is who is cooking up the food.

"Neighborhood Cafe is about helping the community" says chef Eddie Gochiacoa, who oversees a team of teens and young adults from City Heights who make up the kitchen staff.

The cafe is located on University Avenue at the Union of Pan Asian Communities, which was formed to provide aid to one of San Diego's most diverse communities.

"What it represents is opportunity for youth who would otherwise not get that opportunity," says UPAC's Dante Dauz.

Even though many of the kids who start working at The Neighborhood Cafe don't have any cooking experience whatsoever, they are still expected to produce delicious, restaurant-level meals.

"We are a business, too, so kids are accountable. People are buying food, and we want to make sure we execute the highest quality product.”

Young employees at the cafe not only earn money for themselves and their families, Gochiacoa says they also get valuable on-the-job training.

"They learn how to make soups from scratch, sauces from scratch, learn how to use the knives."

The results are clear, both on the plate, and for the kids.

"Their confidence just shoots up, off the roof, and they just want to more and more all the time."

The cafe has been so successful that a second location, called Timmy's, will be opening downtown. The menu will focus on pizza with an eye on helping teenagers transitioning from homelessness.