For nearly 120 years the Godman Guild has been serving the Columbus community, working with individuals and families to build better, stronger neighborhoods.
“The mission of the Godman Guild is to promote strong families and strong communities in Columbus, Ohio,” says CEO Ellen Williams.
Located at 303 E Sixth Ave. in Weinland Park, The Godman Guild has traditionally offered the resources of a settlement house – emergency assistance, access to basic needs, child care – but has grown with the times to continue to serve the community in the best ways possible.
The welfare reform of the mid 90s shifted the Guild’s focus to education and employment.
“What we knew with welfare reform was that there were going to be a lot of people coming off of welfare, and they needed to stay off of welfare, and they needed to be gainfully employed,” Williams says.
Today the Godman Guild offers robust educational resources with GED courses, help with specific subjects an individual might struggle with, and even certifications in customer service and food service.
“Everything that we do really rolls up into helping people become socially and economically mobile,” Williams says.
It was a keen observation by Business Development Officer Jim Gill that would lead Godman Guild down a new path that will not only provide revenue for the organization, but further its mission to help community members with employment. There’s not much better description of their new work than to call it a social enterprise.
Gill noticed that during class breaks, students would flock to the vending machine, subsisting on snacks like Cheetos, Snickers and Coke.
“How can an adult, or even a kid, have a lunch like that and then go back and be able to focus,” Williams asks.
Gill wanted to find a way to not only aid learning, but supplement students’ nutrition while they were at the Guild.
“Vending was a pretty easy way to kind of help push behavior change,” he says.
With funding from The Columbus Foundation, and support from Department of Health, the Godman Guild purchased and started filling their own vending machines, implementing an incentivized, color-coded pricing structure.
Foods with a red sticker are eat-rarely and come at a higher price. Yellow-sticker foods are eat-occasionally, with green stickers signalling the a-ok to eat often, and come in at the lowest price-point.
“From a product mix standpoint, we actually shifted behavior by one, types of products, and by two, the price, from 100 percent bad to about 60 percent bad in terms of what people were buying,” Gill says.
This would be the first of a three-pronged food venture that is building returns for the Godman Guild. In addition to the vending machines, the Guild has developed social enterprises Blue Bow Tie Bistro and Blue Bow Tie Catering.
In-house food service at the Bistro was the next prong of the plan to develop. Housed in a former school building, the space includes a commercial kitchen that wasn’t being utilized after former tenant Head Start moved on.
“There’s no reason to have all this here and not use it,” Williams says. And thus, Godman Guild began in-house lunch service for students, staff and hopefully in the future, the community.
Located in a food dessert, there are limited options for a quick bite in the neighborhood and the Bistro is filling that gap – and doing it at an affordable pricepoint. But to an even bigger benefit, the Bistro is providing transitional employment opportunities for individuals in its educational programs.
“It ties in completely to the job creation, job formation, skill development and then transitioning out into the workforce to a better, higher-paying job,” Gill says. Since February 2015,”We have had seven jobs created as a result of that.”
The program has also helped one employee transition out into the workforce to a better position.
While the vending machines return marginal yields, and the in-house lunch service is a break-even affair, Godman Guild sees Blue Bow Tie Catering as an opportunity to grow on multiple fronts.
“Catering, on the other hand, does really push the side of returning dollars to Godman Guild for use in our programs,” Gill says. “It also allows us to really scale job creation.”
“We’re ramping up to do full-service catering focused on a business-to-business catering model,” says Food Service manager Wes Gibson.
As they build their catering service, Blue Bow Tie is looking for the breakfast and lunch business crowd to utilize the staff and students readily available during the day, versus social engagements that tend to be in the evening. They’re also tapping into their network to start finding opportunities, turning to Guild supporters.
“Let’s start with there and grow organically from that,” Gibson says.
Whether they need catering for 10 or 300, Gibson guarantees Blue Bow Tie’s food will stand up to any other caterer in town. He describes it as an affordably elegant affair with most of the dishes coming it at $9-$13 per person, including all the bells and whistles.
Blue Bow Tie compiles so many positive components, whether it’s a business getting a delicious catered meal or funds for the Godman Guild to further it’s mission, but Gibson says he can’t over emphasize the importance of the transitional employment opportunities that are setting individuals up for long-term success.
“Food industry is not the highest paying industry, but you will have a job,” Gibson says. “This is an employment sector that will continue to grow no matter what the economy does.”
He says that employees need not have any food industry experience – that’s what they are there to teach them, along with other basic skills like customer service.
While the Guild is already seeing returns just a year in, Williams is confident the social enterprise will continue its benefits as the program grows.
“It’s not easy to make a decision to get engaged with a social enterprises because they’re risky, but I think Jim and Wes have done an extraordinary job of taking the time to create the business plans that give us a very, very good chance of being successful,” Williams says.
For more information, visit godmanguild.org and bluebowtiecatering.com.