Walking into Mosaic On Main, one is struck by the brightness of the room, shown both in the design, the clean shine, and the exuberance of those behind the counter.
Entry to the building is greeted by smiling faces, welcoming hellos, the smells of fresh coffee and the eclectic, locally sourced, cooked to order menu.
The community-minded eatery is housed at 325 W. Main St. in Benton Harbor, a location which has seen numerous restaurants come and go, but it is the intention of those who work there, as well as Ric Pawloski, executive director of the Mosaic Christian Community Development Association, to create a permanent anchor in the community.
Ric references community often when discussing Mosaic on Main, as does Director of Culinary Sam Hybels and employees from the restaurant. Each came from their own unique background, but all view Mosaic On Main as a place to provide opportunity and to give back to the community.
The restaurant is what Ric refers to as a “social enterprise.” According to the official signage posted throughout the restaurant, such an enterprise focuses on social objectives, through which surpluses are used not for profit, but are instead put back into the business and the community in an effort to achieve social objectives.
The primary social objective of Mosaic On Main is to provide a space for training and employment for those who face difficulties finding opportunity elsewhere. Their struggles can stem from a variety of situations, including disability or criminal background. The goal is to put these individuals into a situation where they can thrive and unearth their strengths in order to prepare them to move on to employment out in the community.
With the exception of Sam, each employee of Mosaic On Main is a graduate of Jobs For Life or a similar program provided by the organization. Participants must apply, interview, shadow and complete a six-week training program. Based on strengths and interests, they are then put into one of the three Mosaic businesses, including the restaurant, a lawncare and snowplowing business, and a resale shop, with hopes to increase their attractiveness to employers.
In addition to assisting them with gaining employability, Mosaic also works to connect participants with housing, driver’s licenses and other needs when returning to the community. Trainees often find the program through word of mouth, as well as referrals from local judges, Friend Of The Court, and the Berrien County judicial system.
“You can imagine being out of commission for 10 years and trying to figure out how the world works,” Ric said.
Mosaic develops partnerships with other organizations and employers, connecting them with workers they may not have previously considered. He described the struggles of those with the label “felon” who have acknowledged their mistakes and desire to return to their lives and their community. Through showing their strengths and the benefits of these new relationships, it is their goal to put 1,000 struggling people to work by 2022.
Jamal McGee, Mosaic On Main’s sous chef, is a graduate of early Mosaic programs who found his calling in the kitchen. He recalled his days of cooking at home with his grandmother while the other children played outside. After work and training opportunities, he now enjoys his first role in running a kitchen.
“I’m going to cook until the wheels fall off,” he said. “I enjoy cooking because of the smiles on people’s faces, turning nothing into something. It doesn’t matter where. I just want to keep cooking.”
Jamal’s work in the restaurant has also taught him lessons in interacting with others. He described another program graduate whose pride would challenge him, a situation that forced him to learn to deal with people he may not initially agree with, to work to build relationships and community, and to be humble.
He also expressed his own pride in the other employees, describing how the chaos of the restaurant business brought out their skills and their ability to work together.
“It’s just amazing how they pull together,” he said.
Among those workers is Demetrius Haggler, a recent graduate of the Mosaic training program. He discussed his appreciation for an in-depth style of restaurant and the vast difference to his background in fast food. The self-described “skinny chef” talked about his love of cooking and eating and how his time at Mosaic has given him the desire to dream of bigger things in the future.
“I’m hoping to wear the big top hat,” he said. “I want to create my own menu.”
Though it would mean losing his newly appointed lead cook, Hybels hopes only for Demetrius to achieve that goal.
“We’re training them to give them a better job somewhere else,” he said. “Our best employees move on, which is a peculiar goal.”
Hybels, who comes from nearly three decades of experience as an executive chef, expressed the fun and fulfillment of this new direction for him in the food industry. He told the tale of an employee who was once ready to quit. After spending an hour away from the restaurant itself, focusing on an employee other restaurants would have likely let leave, they figured out how to help her succeed. The same employee now works as the head barista at Mosaic On Main.
“I’m doing something that has a purpose,” he said.
Mosaic On Main provides breakfast and lunch six days a week with hopes to expand into dinner and additional catering in the region. They plan to continue providing opportunity for those struggling for employment and expand into offering them hands-on experience and valued industry certifications. Hours and information are available at mosaiconmain.com.
Photos by Emily Sobecki