Operation Jump-Start Graduate Thriving in Park Hills Commercial Kitchen

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 26, 2009 — The ‘dream’ of owning a catering business had been on the backburner for Pat Nappier of Farmington, Mo., for the last 12 years.

But, after completing Southeast Missouri State University’s small business training course, Operation Jump-Start, and thanks to the efforts of the East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) , Inc., Nappier, today, is the owner of Absolute Catering and More. She also is one of the first entrepreneurs using a first-of-its kind commercial kitchen which opened earlier this month in Park Hills, Mo. 

 “The Jump-Start classes and Keri at East Missouri Action Agency were, I believe, gifts from God,” Nappier said.  “I wouldn’t be this positive today without the help from each of them.”

Under the direction of the EMAA, the commercial kitchen, in conjunction with the new River Hills Restaurant, recently held a grand opening that included many honored guests, employees, students, and representatives from its funding agencies. 

The River Hills Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.   Depending on customer demand, the restaurant

May be open until as late as 10 p.m.  The menu items are common — pot roast, pasta, salads, burgers – but the staff members are unique.

Most of the employees are classified as economically disadvantaged. Several have at least three children in their households and nearly all are working full-time in the restaurant to gain valuable business skills. 

Some of the employees are also students of the culinary course taught by Christy Arnett, the restaurant general manager.  Classes are taught in the morning. Once the doors open for business, the students are then able to practice what they have learned in classᾰeverything from food preparation to waiting tables, folding napkins properly and adhering to sanitation standards. The course is offered by Unitec in conjunction with Mineral Area College.  The students will receive a culinary certificate at the end of the two-year program and will have gained valuable work experience.

The commercial kitchen provides culinary small business owners like Nappier the opportunity to expand their businesses with access to state-of-the art, industrial cooking equipment and supplies.  

As a 2008 graduate of Operation Jump-Start, Nappier learned business basics like marketing, advertising, cash flow and competition strategies.  The grant funding she received from the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), Southeast Missouri State University’s funding partner for some of the Operation Jump-Start classes, was used to buy cooking utensils and supplies for Absolute Catering and More.  

Nappier found, as do many small business owners, that large overhead costs are always equipment, rent and utilities.  When she was then accepted into the commercial kitchen as an independent tenant, she was able to minimize those costs and she said this will lead to maximizing her profits as her business grows.  She says she usually comes in overnight to do bakingᾰmostly breads, pies and cakes, baked with only high-grade ingredientsᾰwith some nights dedicated to making entire meals for the catering side of her business.  Today, she couldn’t be more excited about the future.

“I keep having this vision” Nappier said, “that I am an eagle coming up out of this low place, and I finally see the top of the mountain. I know I will be able to fly over the mountaintops soon.” 

Keri McCrorey, director of Community Services for EMAA, spearheaded the efforts to transform the run-down, former Italian Restaurant located at 239 West Main Street into the River Hills Restaurant and Commercial Kitchen.   With assistance from Community Services Block Grant, McCrorey was able to partner resources such as Community Work Support and Family Support Division of the Department of Social Services, Mineral Area College, the Office of Community Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Unitec, as well as, the Missouri Research Corporation (MRC) which is the economic development arm of Southeast Missouri State University.

“This is such an exciting opportunity for our community and its members,” said McCrorey. “I just want to thank all our partners for their help.  Without their support this dream may not have been realized.”

Dennis Roedemeier, chief executive officer of the MRC, was on hand for the grand opening on March 6, and also recently re-visited the restaurant.   Roedemeier said he spoke with several patrons, and everyone said how much they loved the atmosphere and enjoyed their meals.  Thus, he said he was ‘thrilled and optimistic’ that the restaurant will thrive with the support from the region. 

Roedemeier was quick to give praise to McCrorey for managing the collaboration of so many service organizations for a common good.  He too thanked the DRA which provided the grant funding for Southeast to purchase most of the commercial kitchen’s equipment.