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New Somersworth diner offers a 'fair chance' for workers in addiction recovery

Fold'd Community Diner in Somersworth
Courtesy
Fold'd Community Diner in Somersworth

In many ways, Fold’d Community Diner in Somersworth is your typical diner: The bright interior is painted in teal and white, with a long counter and a row of stools. The menu includes breakfast items like southwestern omelets and Oreo cookie crepes; for lunch, you’ll find burgers, sandwiches and salads.

But that food comes along with a larger social mission. Local nonprofit SOS Recovery opened the restaurant earlier this month, with a goal of providing job opportunities for people in recovery from addiction or who were previously incarcerated.

“There's so many barriers for people in recovery, for people coming out of incarceration, and one of them is employment,” said SOS Recovery’s executive director, John Burns. “So I feel like it's our duty to break down those barriers. And what better way than create jobs ourselves?”

Having a supportive, alcohol-free workplace — run by an organization that can connect employees with recovery resources — “just gives them that foundation and that stability to really thrive.”

Burns said local residents have been generally supportive of the new diner on High Street in downtown Somersworth. He also hopes it will play a role in tearing down stigma and undermining negative stereotypes about people with substance use disorders.

When customers come in for breakfast or lunch, he said, they may learn about the mission and see “that there is success in recovery and there is success in employment, and the community doesn't need to fear those that we support.”

The idea of a socially minded business run by a nonprofit isn’t entirely new. Many charities run thrift shops, and there are more ambitious “social enterprise” projects like Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, a network of businesses providing job opportunities to people formerly involved with gangs. But Burns believes Fold’d is the first of its kind for New Hampshire.

Along with providing job opportunities, Burns also sees the restaurant as a way to sustain SOS Recovery’s operations. The organization offers peer-led support services for people in recovery and actively struggling with addiction.

“A lot of it really just came from thinking outside the box, and as an organization looking at how can we become less dependent on grants and more self-sustainable,” he said.

The project was helped along with about a quarter-million dollars in startup funding from Granite United Way, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Kennebunk Savings Bank, according to Burns.

Fold’d Community Diner is in the space that used to be Teatotaller Cafe. Teatotaller owner Emmett Soldati helped get the new business up and running. He’s glad the location can remain a sober-friendly space, while meeting an important need.

“Restaurants do fill – sort of informally – the gap of services [for] folks that are looking for work early on in their recovery, or coming out of some form of rehabilitation or incarceration,” he said. “But it's not an overt mission, and no one necessarily talks about it.”

Working in the restaurant industry can also be hard for people who struggle with substance use, if employers aren’t intentional about supporting them, Soldati said.

“I think having a ‘fair chance’ employer is going to build a model that supports recovery in a bigger way,” he said.

That was a big draw for Bridget Baum. She works as a server at Fold’d, and said she took the job after being “intrigued” by its mission.

“I think a lot of people don't really still understand that people with addictions, people who are trying to get better, are still just people,” she said.

Baum said the restaurant has a very supportive culture, which she compared to a family. As one of the older servers, and someone who’s been in recovery from alcoholism for 16 years, she hopes to be an example to her younger coworkers – and show them “the struggle to maintain sobriety is worth the work.”

She also wants anyone – whether on staff or a customer – to feel comfortable walking in the door.

“Especially people who know what the mission is, who might be struggling as well,” she said, should “know that this is an open, kind, welcoming” place.

That’s key for Burns, too. He said putting “community” in the restaurant’s name was a deliberate choice.

“We want to create an inclusive community, so that it's more than just a dining experience,” he said.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.