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Angels slugger Albert Pujols is known for his home runs, but his wife Deidre Pujols is also a heavy hitter.
Instead of baseball, her playing field is philanthropy.
Among their endeavors is a program called “Strike Out Slavery” that calls attention to human trafficking. And after learning there was a need for a support system for survivors of vulnerable life situations including human trafficking, violence, homelessness and other forms of abuse and oppression, the duo formed Open Gate International, which provides vocational and life skills training.
The first vocational training offered by the organization is a 15-week Culinary Arts Program, accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation.
Now, Deidre and Albert have launched Open Gate Kitchen, a restaurant designed to give Open Gate students their first taste of real restaurant work.
Located in Costa Mesa inside The Hood Kitchen (a kitchen rental space for chefs and bakers), Open Gate Kitchen provides an invaluable apprenticeship to OGI graduates before they pursue employment in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
According to Deidre Pujols, she saw a component that was missing in many charity organizations: job training and workforce reintegration.
“There are so many people that need help, and there are not enough people to do all of the work, so I felt like I could contribute to creating job opportunities,” she said during an interview at Open Gate Kitchen late last month.
“People are coming out of brokenness, addiction, incarceration, homelessness, trauma, so I knew it was going to be important that we have a life skills component to our curriculum. We want to deal with the person first, we want them to have value, identity, passion, and confidence—things you need to go into the work force.”
“We help build the person up and we’re teaching them how to cook, so by the time we get them into a job they have confidence.”
Open Gate Kitchen has three Open Gate graduates running the restaurant while training the current graduating class.
“We have a great menu created by Chef Cinthia Worsey. It’s an established menu we narrowed down so we could perfect what we were doing,” Deidre said. “You could eat here every day and never eat the same type of food twice. We offer three different kinds of bowls, three different proteins, three different types of paninis, salads, burgers, and we’re well known for our truffle fries. We also have truffle mac and cheese. Whatever you are craving, we can meet that craving.”
I asked Albert if he was the official taste tester.
“If I am around, for sure,” he replied.
“I have been busy playing baseball, and she has been a big supporter of my career. This year some benefit is we were able to provide food for some of the minor league players, like our taxi squad that was in Long Beach. They loved the food; everybody is always asking about it.”
“It is an opportunity to give back to the community and make an impact using this platform.”
Open Gate Kitchen has been serving lunch since it opened earlier this year, but the restaurant recently added a morning menu that includes breakfast bowls and burritos plus pastries and coffee.
“As more businesses open, our goal is to get locked in and deliver food like we did for our team,” Albert said. “They can choose what they want for lunch from three or four different items. They can preorder the day before.”
Plans are also in the works to have a catering division and then personalized meal prep for special dietary needs.
Naturally, I was curious about the Open Gate cuisine. Since it was lunchtime I ordered two items to-go: the truffle mac and cheese for me, plus a “Spring Alive” salad with salmon, berries, gorgonzola, candied pecans and mixed greens for my lunch companion, fellow foodie Della Lisi.
Della loved her salad—generous portions of everything overflowed from the container. The mac and cheese was impressive, made with large rigatoni-style pasta and plenty of cheese.
Deidre and Albert Pujols have hit another home run for philanthropy—and for fantastic food.
Open Gate Kitchen at The Hood Kitchen, 350 Clinton St., Ste. A, Costa Mesa, opengateintl.org/ogi-kitchen.