Starting Over With a Start Up

CCANO’s Workforce Development program empowers participants to pursue their dreams after adversity.

On any given day, there are thousands of personnel on boats and platforms off the shores of Louisiana performing natural resource extraction and transportation work. With that
many individuals laboring in remote and contained spaces, there is a need for a tightly run industrial catering industry. Cooking on an oil rig, though, is very different from cooking in a restaurant kitchen and presents many unique challenges. To help cooks prepare for those challenges, Catholic Charities Integrated Workforce Program’s client, Martin Denesse Sr., founder of Gumbeaux Seafood and Catering Inc. and Southern Culinary Training Services, has developed a training curriculum for jobseekers preparing for careers in industrial catering. He previously started Gumbeaux Seafood & Catering years ago but encountered obstacles and struggles that eventually led to serving a prison sentence.

201 individuals gained workforce development skills through CCANO trainings, interview prep, resume building, and referrals last year.As a CCANO workforce client and AmeriCorps member, Martin received encouragement to embark on this venture, as well as funding through the Transition to Success Pilot to cover the cost of specialized training as a food safety instructor. Through CCANO’s Economic Success Coach, Andrew Romaner, Martin learned motivational interviewing techniques that he immediately put to use in order to engage prospective clients. He also developed soft skills such as conflict management, personal accountability, and professionalism in addition to practicing for job interviews and presentations through role-playing the hiring process.

Putting in the Work

By day as part of his AmeriCorps service, Martin packaged boxes of donated food at the Catholic Charities Food for Seniors warehouse in New Orleans East. In the evenings and on weekends, he refined his presentations on topics like menu planning and inventory management. On Wednesday mornings, he and the other AmeriCorps members gathered at Corpus Christi Epiphany Church in the Treme where they received training and considered how they could use their skills to fit in to the growing economy of New Orleans and the region. Martin knew this endeavor was the answer for his success after adversity.

"It was during my time with Catholic Charities that I found the hope that carried me on as I rebuilt my life."

“It was during my time with Catholic Charities that I found the hope that carried me on as I rebuilt my life,” Martin says looking back on his time in the program. “Hope is the belief that the trials and tests that we all face will not be the last word on who we are.”

Planning for the Future

After demonstrating his curriculum at the highly regarded culinary training program, Liberty’s Kitchen, in August of this year, Martin worked out an agreement to provide his training to alumni of the program who already know the fundamentals of professional cooking. With his first client on board, he is continuing to market his services and is looking forward to teaching more young cooks about the opportunities awaiting them offshore. After Andrew recently connected him to Café Reconcile, Martin presented his curriculum to their leaders and was selected to train students in early October 2019. “Combining the need for good meals and timely delivery, creating different menus with the same product – if you develop those skills you can rival any master chef anywhere,” he says.

Workforce Development clientEntrepreneurship is not the easiest road to pay your bills, but it can produce a meaningful reward. Martin has always been able to deliver a product or service but previously did not know how to build a business. He had made a lot of money for other people working a long career in other business owners’ kitchens. In his early sixties now, he is thinking of the legacy he will leave behind and how to provide for his children and family, not just in the meantime but in the long term. Andrew’s background in startups has come in handy. “It’s incredibly gratifying to know that the skills I’m working on with my client are actually being put to use. Martin is a go-getter, incredibly motivated, and self-aware. I’m impressed by his work ethic and ingenuity,” says Andrew. Martin is living proof that life after prison can be rewarding and that individuals can always choose to start again.