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Farm-to-Table Restaurant Jacob's Pickles Launches High School Internship

By Emily Frost | June 3, 2014 11:08am
 Farm-to-table comfort food restaurant Jacob's Pickles will pay two students from Urban Assembly for Green Careers this summer to learn the restaurant trade. 
Jacob's Pickles Internship Program
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Farm-to-table comfort food spot Jacob's Pickles is hiring two local high school students as paid interns this summer to teach them about the restaurant industry as part of an ongoing partnership with the school.

The owner of the popular Southern-style restaurant, Jacob Hadjigeorgis, said he'll take two students from the neighboring Urban Assembly for Green Careers high school under his wing from early July to mid-August. He'll also help fund the school's gardening program as part of a newly formed foundation, he said. 

The interns, who are still being selected, will most likely work as "runners," moving between the kitchen and the front of the house. Their wage is still being worked out, Hadjigeorgis said.

"I want the experience to be as real as possible," he said, noting the work is a kind of litmus test for whether the restaurant industry is right for them.

Hadjigeorgis said restaurant work is "extremely glamorized," but in reality, "it's a tough life."

The interns will also have the chance to tailor the experience to their interests — whether that means spending time with the chef or focusing more on the operational side, Hadjigeorgis explained.

"I want students to think of themselves as potential entrepreneurs," said Michelle Andry, a coordinator for the school who works on creating partnerships between UAGC and the community. 

Watching Hadjigeorgis and observing day-to-day life in the restaurant should help the students get ideas about their future paths, she added. 

The 380-student school, which opened in 2009, defines "green careers" in an expansive way — including anything from horticulture to working at a restaurant focused on sustainability. 

When he first opened Jacob's Pickles in December 2011, Hadjigeorgis became enamored with the community garden run by UAGC students that sits next to the restaurant, on Amsterdam Avenue between West 84th and 85th streets.

That summer he met students who sold him fresh vegetables they'd grown, including tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. He knew he wanted to contribute more to their garden.

Hadjigeorgis has hired several UAGC students as employees at Jacob's Pickles and has continued to buy and serve vegetables from the garden.

This summer, with a newly formed foundation called Jacob's Pickles Digs NY, he's making a contribution of $3,000 to the school's summer gardening program, which has given internships to students for the past few years. Next year, he hopes to increase that gift to between $10,000 and $20,000, he said.

The school's gardening internship pays each of the dozen or so students who participate a $600 stipend for their work, at a total cost of about $15,000, which comes from foundations and school funding, Andry said. 

Support for Jacob's Pickles Digs NY means it will be able to pay the gardening interns closer to the hourly minimum wage for their work from early July to mid-August. 

"We want to make the kids feel like what they're doing is really important and not just an elective," Hadjigeorgis said.

Funding for the foundation will come from events at the restaurant, including an upcoming bourbon and pickle pairing event in June. An exact date has yet to be announced.

The focus of the foundation will expand in the coming years to possibly include building similar programs in unused plots in the city or developing a better curriculum for those schools that already have greenhouses, Hadjigeorgis explained.

"It's hugely important that these kids get to be outside getting their hands dirty, seeing where their food comes from," he said.