By Teresa Carey…
One year has passed since Keesha’s Kitchen, Bar & Patio opened its doors in Winnipeg Beach. In that short time it has evolved into an extraordinary place—with an extraordinary mission.
Keesha’s tagline is “cuisine, community, culture, mind, body, soul”. That’s a lot to fit within the walls of this small Main Street establishment, but the owner, who goes by the name ‘Keesha D.’, has managed to incorporate all of these elements seamlessly.
On one level, Keesha’s is a popular destination where friends can meet, eat and take in live, local entertainment. The unconventional menu, inspired by the owner’s multicultural upbringing, boasts of elevated comfort food made from wholesome, mostly locally-sourced ingredients, with dishes drawing from various ethnic flavours.This summer’s menu will highlight foods from the southern parts of the globe–Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Australia and South Africa. Next summer’s menu? Who knows?
“I’ve had a very strong relationship with food throughout my life,” said Keesha D. “Growing up in Central Winnipeg with its cultural diversity, I was exposed to a lot of exciting culinary dishes and they inspire me up to this day. Getting an opportunity to open a restaurant, it was always my dream.”
The very first dish Keesha’s offered was baked Macaroni and Cheese, a family recipe. It has since been reworked into a tasty appetizer, ‘Mac and Cheese Balls’, which are rolled in a Panko-Corn Flake mixture, deep fried and served up with a homemade dipping sauce.
“We make a lot of our condiments in-house, like butters, salsa and guacamole,” Keesha explained.
In fact, all of the dishes at Keesha’s are made from scratch, from the veggie burgers to the Crab & Seafood Boil. Regular and sweet potato fries are all hand-cut and handmade corn bread accompanies many of the menu items. There are creative twists on recipes like the baked potatoes, called “Papas” (a Spanish word meaning potatoes), with several varieties, many named after songs containing the word “Papa” it the title. (Keesha invites the public to drop by the restaurant to learn how they can enter a contest to create and name a Papa recipe and win a prize.)
Aside from the interesting menu options, Keesha’s Kitchen has a commitment to respecting the environment and does so by using eco-friendly takeout packaging, having recycling bins in the back, and recycling all of the used oils.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Equally important to the Keesha’s Kitchen concept is its support for homegrown arts and culture. Local musicians entertain there on weekend evenings and local artwork is on display in the restaurant and may be purchased. Keesha’s takes no commission.
“(The art) gives our space light and life. That’s enough of a payment,” Keesha said.
“The goal is to have arts infused in the restaurant at all times,” she explained. “Art fosters community. (For the artist) it is an opportunity to play music or show their art. It show cases their talents and creates networking and social opportunities. Brokering those relationships is something Keesha’s wants to be known for.”
KEESHA’S MENTORSHIP PROGRAM FOR AT RISK YOUTH
However, what really sets this establishment apart is the unique 16-week mentorship program it offers to at risk youth who are under the care of social services agencies. Often, the biggest stumbling block for kids formerly in care is a difficulty in finding and sustaining employment once they are living on their own. Keesha’s has become a place where these youth, aged 16 to 21, can get some pre-independent training in a supportive environment.
“Each employee hired here is made aware we are providing a mentorship program to youth. It does take a special kind of person to do both. We look for those who have had some experience working with youth or situations with managing crisis.”
“We have an elaborate training plan to work each youth through each facet of the restaurant business,” Keesha explained. “It’s a graduated training program.”
The youths first spend several weeks working in the sanitation station before moving on to kitchen prep, where they will prep vegetables and learn safe food storage. After this, they work as sous chefs then will be moved to the “front of the house” as servers, hosts and bartenders. Before finally “graduating” the each of the trainees will spend between two and four days working alongside Keesha and they will be given a closeup look at management and business ownership, learning about such things as payroll, ordering, public relations and dealing with customer disputes. Keesha puts each one of them to work on marketing of Keesha’s Kitchen, whether by creating posts on social media or creating and handing out brochures and other forms of advertising.
The program goes a long way in helping these youth develop skills they will need in order to create a better future for themselves. In the past year, 39 youth have been put through this program.
“My goal is to have hundreds or even thousands of youth,” Keesha said.
Keesha’s Kitchen is open daily from 7:00 a.m. and offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and deli menus. Live entertainment takes place on weekends. Reservations are recommended.
“I want everyone who comes in here to feel that they are coming into my home and my home was always filled with music, vibrant art, eccentric people and really good food,” Keesha said.