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L.A. Kitchen, Which Served Elderly and Provided Job Training, to Close This Week

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Founder Robert Egger recruited restaurant heavyweights to help feed the elderly, but ran into trouble

The Power Of Food - An Evening With Jose Andres And Friends Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

Robert Egger announced today that non-profit L.A. Kitchen will permanently close its doors on November 1 because it was unable to balance enough philanthropic contribution and income to meet its expenses. Egger brought his DC Kitchen concept to LA in 2013, which recycles excess prepared foods from restaurants and businesses primarily for the elderly, while offering kitchen training programs.

Eater spoke with Egger about L.A. Kitchen’s closing, and he cited hostility when attempting to work with Los Angeles’ Department of Aging. The key to L.A. Kitchen’s success relied on securing contracts with the Department of Aging to produce thousands of meals. When in operation, L.A. Kitchen bought reduced-priced food and employed graduated from the training programs. Egger notes that L.A. Kitchen procured a few contracts, some which produced 4,000 meals a week for Los Angeles residents over the age of 65.

Egger also recruited some notable restaurant owners on L.A. Kitchen’s board of directors to make his ambitious plan work, including chef José Andrés, and Tender Greens executive chairman and founder, Erik Oberholtzer.

L.A. Kitchen operated in a 20,000 square foot facility in Lincoln Heights and spent six years recycling food into meals for social agencies that feed the elderly, while providing training programs for individuals that were formerly incarcerated, homeless, or aged out of foster care. The program admitted 22 new students every 14 weeks.

Egger originally founded DC Central Kitchen in 1989 with a similar model, and hoped to successfully apply it to Los Angeles. Not only was Andrés an L.A. Kitchen board member, but the chef became a leader of disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, and partnered with L.A. Kitchen to feed feed firefighters and fire evacuees during California’s fires in late 2017.

Here’s Andrés’s statement:

“How could LA’s Department of Aging not run to L.A. Kitchen? How can you say no to a program that was set up to serve two healthy meals for the price of one, while training and employing people. It’s nuts. Robert is one of the America’s most recognized leaders, and look at the results LAK generated. You lost a good one, LA.”

From Tender Greens founder, Erik Oberholtzer:

“Like me, Robert does food democracy. His entire career has been about providing healthy food for everyday people. He assembled a killer team of professionals for L.A. Kitchen, and the board and staff developed an incredible training curriculum and healthy menu plan. And they generated success metrics for miles. This should have been a slam dunk for LA, and a model for every city.”

From LA Kitchen founder, Robert Egger:

”Despite our significant impact and outpouring of support, we have to acknowledge that our combined philanthropic and earned income has not been able to fully sustain our work and meet the requirements of the loan we took out to build our beautiful facility. With the participation of our Board of Directors, we’ve decided to enter a period of rebuilding that will position L.A. Kitchen for a much stronger and more sustainable future. This requires us to temporarily pause our culinary training and meal distribution programs. This is a tough decision, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. During this period we will continue expanding our social enterprise to create a more consistent earned revenue stream.”

Egger also shared a video with a full eight minute statement: