The Idealistic Young Man Behind the New Culinary Entrepreneurship Program
Elad grew up in a religious-Zionist home in Kiryat Shmona, a city on the Lebanese border. After IDF service as an officer in an elite combat unit, Elad received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the Open University.
“I was a social activist and very involved in education,” says Elad. “I knew that I wanted to build a career in informal education and to help kids who were in danger of going down the wrong path.”
He began his career as an instructor at Yiftach. Yiftach is home to 40 religious teens, any of whom were spiraling into patterns of negative behavior, dealing with difficult mental health issues, and on the edge of dropping out of their schools and communities.
The program at Yiftach engages these youth in an integrated approach of education, therapy, and skills that lead to them doing meaningful army service, re-engaging with their community and entering the workforce as productive adults who contribute to building a stronger society.
Culinary entrepreneur in action
Elad went on to become the head of a Pre-Army Leadership program. His dream to start an entrepreneurship program that would give youth at-risk the knowledge, skills and tools to create and run their own businesses brought him back to Yiftach.
He shared his idea to pilot an entrepreneurial culinary program that teaches the students to establish their own coffee house and catering business.
“I wanted to work with their strengths and give them the responsibility to build something of their own,” says Elad. “So many times, education for at-risk youth only addresses individual weaknesses. Yet many of these teens have talents other than academic, and I want them to tap into this potential.”
The pilot is now off and running. Fifteen students are in the program learning the theory and hands-on skills of establishing and operating a business, from product design to pricing, marketing, advertising, finances and service, to engaging in real-time implementation.
They have named their business Café Barkai. Barkai means the emergence of light from dark, which holds a double-meaning for the students.
“Not only do they get up at 4:00 am on Friday morning to bake Shabbat challot and hummous, which they deliver and also sell on site, they are all going through an individual process of emerging from a darker place,” explains Elad.
Students in the culinary program
Café Barkai is gaining momentum in the region, and is also beginning to cater breakfast and lunch events for tourist groups from Israel and abroad. The students get paid for their work as entrepreneurs, adding to their experience of self-value and success.
“We have so many plans for Café Barkai,” says Elad with enthusiasm. “We want to add an art gallery for local craftspeople to exhibit and sell their work, and to have Yiftach’s students take pottery classes in which they make the Café plates and mugs and also sell them. A herb garden with local herbs and spices will be used in preparing the food and sold. Eventually, we aim to enter the tourist sector by providing meals, tours and engagement with our students.”
“When these boys are motivated, they completely change,” continues Elad. “We hope to expand the program to reach 85% of the students and to give them valuable tools and skills for life.”
“We are definitely on our way,” he says with a smile.