Worth Our Weight, the visionary, nonprofit Santa Rosa café and catering enterprise that prepares at-risk youth for work in the food industry, will soon serve its last meal.
A year after the devastating firestorms, WOW Café founder Evelyn Cheatham has concluded that her culinary training bistro is a casualty of the demographic and economic changes wrought by the disaster.
“We’re done,” said Cheatham, at 65 one of the region’s most enduring and oft-honored youth advocates, community leaders and directors of human services nonprofits.
“There’s no more money,” the chef and teacher said at a long table inside the teaching café and catering kitchen near Montgomery Village Shopping Center. “That’s a hard place to be.”
Cheatham founded Worth Our Weight in 2006 to create a pathway to a career for young people — most often, boys — who had aged out of foster care, or struggled with the effects of neglect, family chaos, homelessness, gang involvement and other challenges.
Since the beginning, WOW has been best known for its high-quality and tasty Sunday brunches, prepared and served by culinary trainees coached by Cheatham and a small paid kitchen crew of WOW alumni. Patrons were allowed to decide what they would pay for a meal until the average donation dropped too low to cover operating costs, then prices were set.
There will be no brunch this Sunday because that evening chef and WOW supporter John Franchetti will host a benefit dinner for the program at his restaurant, Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen.
At this point, Cheatham and the Worth Our Weight board are celebrating a good run and working to pay remaining bills before shutting down.
Cheatham said brunch will be served at WOW on Oct. 21 and a few Sundays after that.
“I want to be open so people can say goodbye,” she said.
Friends of Cheatham and her instructional café regard the decision to shut down as bittersweet.
“I’ve always said that Evelyn is magic,” said Marcy Smothers, the Sonoma County author, radio personality and longtime WOW board member.
“With the closing of Worth Our Weight, I’m confident her legacy will live on with the personal and professional successes of her graduates,” Smothers said. “After all she has done for others, she will finally have time for herself.”
Cheatham is committed to continuing a holiday tradition that dates to the 1980s. With a small army of donors and helpers, Cheatham prepares and delivers hundreds of Christmas dinners — bountiful enough to assure there will be leftovers — to people in need. She’ll just have to find another kitchen.
She needs to close the café and catering operation at 1021 Hahman Drive, she said, because since the wildfires a year ago, WOW has seen a steep decline in both diners and apprentices.
For weeks immediately after the October 2017 fires, her food service apprentices joined restaurants and other purveyors throughout the region to cook up a storm and dispense vast amounts of food to evacuees, disaster volunteers, first responders and others.
As the immediate crisis eased, Cheatham said, “people didn’t come back” to her eatery. When the WOW Café reopened for brunch in February, only 18 customers came on the first Sunday.
Worth Our Weight’s grand finale
Worth Our Weight’s last culinary series dinner will be Oct. 14 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen.
An Octoberfest dinner will be prepared by Chef John Franchetti, guest pastry chef Tosha Callahan, WOW chef Robb Ledesma and the apprentices.
Tickets are $85 and available at https://bit.ly/2yvuaT9