As a young nightclub manager in 1989,Robert Egger made two big observations. Throwing out food at the end of each shift, he witnessed incredible food waste even while communities around Washington, DC grappled with hunger and poverty. He also observed the power of restaurants and nightclubs to bring those communities together. Egger envisioned a central kitchen that would redirect food waste to shelters and nonprofits while providing job training for individuals facing barriers to employment. Today, DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) has grown into an iconic social enterprise and has served more than 40 million meals, prevented the waste of 32 million pounds of food, and empowered more than 2,000 Washingtonians to embark on meaningful culinary careers.
After operating out of the cramped and dimly lit basement of a homeless shelter for the past three decades, DCCK is preparing to move its operations for the first time. The move is the culmination of a six-year partnership with ZGF, in which the firm has helped DCCK define its real estate needs, evaluate sites across the city, and design its future headquarters.
DCCK’s new 37,000 square-foot facility in DC’s Buzzard Point neighborhood will allow it to triple its operational capacity, foster connections with the community, and better serve its staff, students, and volunteers. A retail café, dedicated production and training kitchens, volunteer areas, and administrative workspace will all be consolidated under one roof.
“There’s this historical narrative that as a non-profit, we’re supposed to be martyrs for the greater good,” says Alex Moore, DCCK’s Chief Development Officer. “People who have come through our programs after experiencing systemic trauma and barriers need a place where they can become leaders. If that work is done in an environment that is poorly lit, without windows, and built from cinder blocks, that demeans their work.”
With its new headquarters, DCCK and ZGF are challenging that martyr mentality. A state-of-the-art production kitchen and culinary support spaces are appropriately planned for a high level of meal production. New dedicated training facilities aim to optimize learning outcomes and prepare students for their future careers. The project, which is targeting Fitwel 3-Star certification, will employ healthy design strategies (think natural daylighting, active circulation, and wellness-oriented amenities) to bolster occupant wellbeing.
“Our new facility will help us achieve better outcomes from the get-go,” says Moore. “It will prepare our students for the rigors of work. All of that sets people up for success in a meaningful way.”
Beyond providing a proficient and professional environment, ZGF has focused on shaping a welcoming home for DCCK, one that its stakeholders will feel a deep sense of ownership over. A rigorous visioning process engaged DCCK employees, soliciting their input on how the organization’s culture ought to manifest in its environment. Staff advocated for a design that would embody inclusivity and for an open plan that would eliminate barriers and create sightlines between groups.
“我们交谈关于如何使人们感觉welcome when they arrive went above and beyond a typical project,” says ZGF Principal Kent McCullough. “When you enter the space, you’ll be able to see into the production kitchen where staff are cooking lunches for DC public schools, to the volunteer cooking line where community members are chopping vegetables, and into the teaching kitchen where students are attending culinary training.”
Layered throughout the facility, custom environmental graphics and artwork commissioned by local artists will further celebrate DCCK’s stories and mission. “Telling the story of how the work has gotten done is an important step,” says Moore. “We’ve placed an emphasis on bright, active design, because this is not supposed to be the tired drudgery of putting a salve on societal wounds. DCCK is about creating leadership opportunities that go right at the systemic injustices of our community at a major scale.”
That bright, vibrant design will also activate the street, creating visibility for DCCK while inviting the community to engage. Residents of Buzzard Point will be encouraged to pop into DCCK’s retail café for coffee in the mornings or come by on the weekends to volunteer in the kitchen.
The power of restaurants to bring people together once inspired Robert Egger to launch DCCK. Now with a facility shaped around its mission and scaled to its aspirations, DCCK hopes its new home will help it harness the power of community to further amplify its impact. As Moore puts it: “Big things get solved bit by bit every single day. It takes a lot of people from all walks of life working together.”