Paul’s Place announced Melanie Molinaro as general manager of Groundwork Kitchen, the nonprofit organization’s restaurant located at 925 Washington Boulevard in Baltimore City’s Pigtown community. Molinaro will lead the reopening efforts for the 120-seat restaurant that has been closed since January 2022 due to the pandemic.
Molinaro brings a wealth of industry experience to the restaurant and its reopening having worked in the food service industry since she was 19. Over the years, she helped with the opening efforts for a number of Baltimore-area restaurants including Nickel Taphouse, Encantada and Birroteca’s two locations. In 2016, she opened R. House’s Stall 11, where she served as culinary director in addition to co-owner and followed that with the opening of R. House’s Molina Pizze & Polpette in 2017. In recent years, Molinaro’s focus has been on Little Fig Bake Shop, a small batch bake shop specializing in vegan sweets, and Plantry Goods, a wholesale company specializing in vegan fried chicken, both of which she opened with her husband who is now overseeing operations as she takes on her new role at Groundwork Kitchen.
“We’re thrilled to have Melanie join the Groundwork Kitchen/Paul’s Place team,” says Tim Regan, executive director of Paul’s Place. “She brings tremendous experience from across the Baltimore restaurant industry, which will be a tremendous asset as we re-launch Groundwork Kitchen.”
In this new role, Molinaro will oversee the reopening efforts and continued management of the restaurant starting with the hiring of a new executive chef, culinary team and front of house staff; the development of new menus; and the integration of the Paul’s Place Culinary Training Program at Groundwork Kitchen with the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. She will also develop the long-term vision for the restaurant including an expansion of catering operations to provide hands-on training for our students and potential employment options for our alumni, creating and hosting hospitality and restaurant job fairs, and developing a seed-to-table tower garden program for both student and staff professional development.
As general manager for the restaurant, Molinaro serves as a member of the Paul’s Place leadership team alongside Regan; Meghan Culbertson, director of development; Mark Mittelman, deputy director; and Ellen Levy, the program director for the culinary arts training program, as they work to support and advance the mission of the nonprofit organization. The Paul’s Place Culinary Training Program at Groundwork Kitchen, housed in the same building as the restaurant, launched in October 2021 and has graduated 41 students who completed the free 12-week program operated by Paul’s Place and founded on the nation-wide initiative of Catalyst Kitchens, a proven model implemented in nearly 60 other facilities across the country. Groundwork Kitchen’s culinary arts program utilizes four integral components: culinary skills training, life skills training, hands-on experience, and individualized case management support and coaching throughout training, job placement, and for six months after graduation. Upon graduation, all students will earn ServSafe certifications. Funding for the program comes from individual donations, corporate contributions, foundation grants, and government grants.
“I am excited to come aboard and be part of Groundwork Kitchen. The unique opportunity to manage a social enterprise restaurant that is home to Paul’s Place’s Culinary Training Program really drew me in because I get to be part of a critical point on the food journey of our students that wouldn’t be possible in a normal restaurant environment,” says Molinaro. “I am particularly excited about how the culinary training staff and the restaurant staff will work together on the goal to reshape what it means to work in a kitchen: To expect better, be treated better, to learn better. It all starts with us, shaping the foundation here at Groundwork and encouraging others to follow our lead.”