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The Hall at The Foundry is set for its grand opening on the 28th. Take a peek inside and at some dishes from one of the food trucks that will be a regular at the space. Brian Powers/The Register

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As owner Nick Kuhn takes a stroll around the giant, gleaming new kitchen, he still can't believe his eyes. It's the realization of a dream that started in 2016.

The Hall at The Foundry is about to undergo a major transformation, even though most customers won't immediately notice the gravity of the changes.

The style of service is staying the same. The relaxed food is staying the same. The app-based ordering system is staying the same.

But you won't see the food trucks, and homeless youth will be making and serving the food. And if the plan works, there should be more food choices to be available for customers.

Interested in Iowa food news? Follow @briantaylorcarlson on Facebook, @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.

From 2017: Iowa’s never seen a food truck beer hall like this before

"We're trying to change lives without charity," said Kuhn, co-owner of The Hall and the president of Justice League of Food. "It's about the empowerment of people."

Ever since The Hall at The Foundry in Valley Junction opened to much fanfare in 2017, it has given Des Moines food trucks another venue where they can offer their menus to customers.

The beer hall features 400 seats both inside and outside in the beer garden and a full bar with 54 beers on tap.

But April 23 launched a new era. The Kitchen at The Hall had its grand opening to introduce the public to its new 2,500-square-foot kitchen space. Four fully-equipped identical kitchen stations — five counting the wood-burning pizza oven —  include everything a team of chefs needs to put out all of the food. There's even a full-service bakery and a classroom instruction area.

The kitchen — which can be rented by food entrepreneurs — will be staffed by a team of at-risk, disenfranchised and homeless youth ages 18-24. It's the heart of the mission for Justice League of Food, the new job training program facilitated by The Hall.

Empowering youth

One year ago, The Hall hired its first homeless youth. Kuhn was so pleased that he was ready to launch the kitchen expansion.

Now there are six confirmed young people entering the one-year program from Iowa's Homeless Youth Center, Walnut Creek Alternative School and IJAG (Iowa Jobs After Graduation). The goal is eight graduates per year, but Kuhn believes that total will double. 

Chosen by caseworkers and Kuhn, candidates are paid $14 an hour and receive-on-the-job training and help with job placement after completion. Candidates will have opportunities to work with and learn from chefs from restaurants throughout the metro and beyond.

Kuhn said free transportation for the workers is provided by way of a donated van. "A retired driver vowed to donate his time," Kuhn said. "He told me, 'I just retired and all I want to do in my retirement is drive.'" 

Kuhn said the driver's church donated the van to the program. "I said, 'Welcome to the team.' There's just so much serendipity going on here, it's crazy. 

"Our staff here will be trained by all the vendors and food truck operators," Kuhn said. "We'll have certified kitchen managers trained in food safety so there is always someone here who will own that responsibility."

Even though the mission of Justice League of Food is foremost about providing skills training and job placement services for at-risk and homeless youth, the kitchen will also be used as a prep kitchen for Hunger-Free Polk County

Student chefs will constantly rotate to work with different chefs and food types each shift, allowing for plenty of time with mentors.

And Kuhn is already looking forward to that. "Teaching professional skills is easy. It's the life skills that are the hard part."

The Hall is now a restaurant incubator

The Hall opened in 2017 predominantly as a food truck emporium. Hungry patrons used an app to sort through the food truck menus.

That's still how it will operate, but if you see your favorite food truck back out on the street, they might still be serving food at The Hall, thanks to the new commercial kitchen.

The Hall's kitchen is hoping to become an incubator for restaurants. That can include all types of food entrepreneurs from food trucks to caterers and everything in between. Kuhn said his goal is to have 10 vendors and will no longer call them all "food trucks."

The Hall will rent space for a fraction of the price of what it would cost to rent or build a legal commercial space — $1,500 per month. Renters then sell their menus in The Hall's enormous dining space, build their brands and help train the student chefs that will be on hand to act as their staff.

Kuhn said it will allow people who do not have the upfront capital to invest in a food truck or a restaurant space. That initial capital investment can run anywhere from $100,000 to $2,000,000 in an industry with an 85% failure rate in the first year.

"In effect, everybody gets to use The Hall and this kitchen as their own restaurant," Kuhn said. "The goal is to be an incubator kitchen, an incubator of small business."

The $1,500 rental fee gets the entrepreneur 20 hours of kitchen time per week with the use of all kitchen equipment and an opportunity to help train the candidates who act as the in-house labor force. Kitchen spaces are rented on a month-to-month basis. Vendors then make and sell their food on the property to The Hall's customers — over 200,000 per year.

The Hall also provides centralized ingredient delivery from the distributors which means better pricing. Each vendor is responsible for their own food cost, but The Hall takes care of inventory management. And each vendor has its own storage areas.

"Here, you can rent this kitchen and put your product out there to see if it's actually going to work," Kuhn said. "And the worst you are out is fifteen hundred bucks a month."

And if you're having trouble getting your products to sell?

"Ultimately, The Hall wants to help each business succeed," Kuhn said. "If they're struggling with sales, there are two reasons why that's happening — the product isn't very good or they're asking too much for it. The Hall is always there to lend a helping hand along with plenty of staff. That's in-house consultation free of charge."

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The Hall DSM

Location: 111 S. 11th St., West Des Moines

Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 3 to 10 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Contact: (515) 608-4100; thehalldsm.comFacebook

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