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'To help support their families' | Youth run 'Neighborhood Café' gives on the job training in City Heights

It's a job that UPAC, or the Union of Pan Asian Communities created specifically for local youths who struggle to find work.

SAN DIEGO — The Neighborhood Café at 54th and University Avenue not only serves seasoned chicken wings, but it provides hands-on training.

Young employees learn how to “julienne cut” a potato to make French fries and others received a crash course on T-shirt printing.

Skilled instructors give on-the-job training of putting a cotton shirt on top of a press, to adding on the print, and operating the heated machinery to having a newly printed top in a matter of seconds.

It's a job that UPAC, or the Union of Pan Asian Communities created specifically for local youths who struggle to find work.

"What I mean by challenge is, that they were not getting any jobs, and it was sad because they were putting real, genuine, sincere efforts to get employment,” said Dante Dauz, UPAC Director of community engagement and business development. “We all came up with this solution to create the jobs,”

Dauz says he has 22 employees that have ran every aspect of a business since late 2018. From food prep, to catering, to screen printing, and more.

“It’s overdue to have something like this. They know what they want, they just don’t know how to get there,” said Dauz. “It is important for us to showcase what we have available here because you never know who is going to be the next entrepreneur,”

No “Great Resignation” here, many of the college student employees say they can't wait to get to work.

"I love working at this place. It just feels like home every time. I would like to come here every day to get extra hours whether I am volunteering or not,” said Salman Shekh, a Neighborhood Café employee, who is also Cal State San Marcos sophomore in software engineering. “I first started as a café associate and have worked my way on up and worked all the jobs,”

Shekh lives up the street and was first drawn to the café after seeing so many teenagers outside.

He says another gamechanger is the culturally reflective menu that features dishes from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Syria, and Somalia.

"l was like ‘Yo, you have Somalian food? You guys have actually heard about that? Because I only know of two or three restaurants in the whole City Heights,’” said Shekh.

Dauz says the Neighborhood Café is a place of mentorship and community building that gives young workers with little access, to positive and paying programs, an open door.

"Our youths who work here, they need this job to help support their families,” said Dauz.

Food distribution employee. Thaw Say, who goes by the name “Future,” says his job is simple but impactful.

“I feel very good helping the community, sometimes it’s very hard to get any access to food around here,” said Say, a freshman at San Diego City College with aspirations in biomedical engineering. “Especially right now with the gas prices being up,”

Say said he is not aware of any other businesses run by youths and loves his work environment.

“I don’t know any other place that has this much diversity, and it’s really cool that the café is run by youths because it shows that youths can run a business,” said Say.

There is a four week, youth business training program that starts on April 20, 2022. The onsite learning program includes culinary skills, print shop, and entrepreneurship.

It is open to youths ages 12 to 21-years-old, located at 5296 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92105.

Contact Dante Dauz for registration info at ddauz@upacsd.com 

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