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KITCHEN ON A MISSION: Houston restaurant provides meaningful employment to adults with disabilities

Mother starts nonprofit Belong Kitchen for daughter

Special people making special food, that’s the motto behind Belong Kitchen, the new restaurant in Memorial City that’s making big waves in the Houston community.

HOUSTON – Special people making special food, that’s the motto behind Belong Kitchen, the new restaurant in Memorial City that’s making big waves in the Houston community. As her daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school, Belong Kitchen founder Kim Brown realized that there was a severe lack of career opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). But, rather than wait for the world to change, Brown set out to change the world and prove that people like her daughter Ellie are capable of doing amazing things.

Belong Kitchen offers employment opportunities to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“We started Belong Kitchen for our middle daughter Ellie. Ellie is developmentally delayed,” said Brown. “Young adults with intellectual and developmental differences don’t have many opportunities for employment.”

Despite having no background in the restaurant industry and dealing with the pandemic, Brown was determined to find a way to create jobs for young adults to help them gain a skill set to grow and be successful later in life.

The original "Fab 7" crew making meals in Belong Kitchen owner Kim Brown's home. (Belong Kitchen)

“COVID hit, and we were really struggling to find a location,” said Brown. “We got tired of waiting, so we just started cooking out of our house with about seven of our original employees.”

The Fab 7, as they call themselves, formed a tight bond while working together in tight quarters at Brown’s home. Brown searched diligently for a space with an open layout that would allow customers to see the employees working hard in the kitchen.

“We had been really praying and waiting for the right location. This space and the new development became available, and we were thrilled. We’ve been hitting the ground running ever since,” said Brown.

Belong Kitchen offers employment opportunities to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Located in the Village Tower Plaza between Texadelphia and Tiny’s Milk & Cookies, Belong Kitchen offers grab-and-go family-sized meals from a weekly rotating menu, including dishes like Chicken Enchiladas Verde, Greek Chicken and Orzo and Hot Honey Pretzel Chicken Tenders. The staff is comprised of both employees and volunteers, including Lara Tate who’s daughter Kendall was part of the Fab 7.

“She loves coming to work. She is very serious about her job,” said Tate. “They have a little app that she does on her phone, so she can clock in and clock out, so she feels very important [because] she can do that.”

And much like Brown, Tate is most appreciative of the sense of purpose Belong Kitchen provided to her daughter after she struggled to find employment after high school.

Belong Kitchen employee Kendall Tate pictured with her friends and co-workers in her custom apron. (Marlo Wise Photography)

“When this opportunity came up for her to actually be an employee to actually make a paycheck, I mean, that just gave her so much encouragement and confidence,” said Tate.

In addition to the many new experiences and skills that Brown’s employees gain, she hopes the community will learn something as well.

“What we want people to know is that these young adults have value. They contribute,” said Brown. “They’re capable of so much if you just give them a chance, so we want the community to see that and embrace that.”

Belong Kitchen offers employment opportunities to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Belong Kitchen is located in the Village Towers Plaza at 9655 Katy Freeway, Ste 3105 Houston, TX 77024. For more information, click here.


About the Authors:

Olivia Kolanek is the Features Producer of KPRC 2's Houston Life. She joined the KPRC family in the summer of 2019 after working in non-profit communications for three years. She is passionate about creating content that features good people, good food or a good story. Olivia is a University of Houston alumna, Audible junkie and scuba novice.