Hope on the Menu

Pasadena catering company serves its clients and so much more

Monday, July 7, 2014 | 8:09 pm

Chef Tony Lancaster (right) with his wife, Ann.

Tony Lancaster knows what it’s like to need a helping hand. It wasn’t that long ago that he had returned to Southern California to stay with family, and try to rebuild a life that he had more than once admittedly destroyed.

He had once enjoyed a successful restaurant and career with his wife and family members. In fact, as he first began to detail his history to one with no inkling of his life’s tale, it just sounded like bragging.

“We had a very successful life. We had the big house, and we had the vacation house, and we had the income property. We were doing really well.”

That very successful career began for him long before, as a teenage dishwasher who was thrown into the kitchen one night when the cook called in sick.

“I did well that night, and I liked it, and I got better and better at it, and I knew this was going to be my life at that point,” he told Pasadena Now. He began working with his sister at a restaurant she managed, and business grew. And grew.

And throughout that whole growth cycle, as he acquired more and more, there was trouble brewing, and there was one constant strain.

The restaurant and catering business he had grown with his sister fell on hard times because of bad management, and the whole time—through his whole restaurant career, actually—Tony Lancaster was hooked on drugs and alcohol.

“I lost everything, and I was back in Southern California for once more chance.”

That one more chance led to a fortuitous church meeting, and a new job working for Kilroy’s Sandwich Factory in Pasadena. But this wouldn’t be much of a tale if something else didn’t grow from that.

Lancaster, who had found a new and stronger religious faith as he struggled to recover from his addictions, eventually became 50 percent owner and managing partner of the company, and had an idea to grow it into something bigger and even more important.

Kilroy’s Sandwich Factory was now operating as Hope Café and Catering.

As Lancaster explains it, “Hope Café is a place where the outcast, the outsourced and the overlooked could find hope, a new place where they could learn a new trade, and they could feed themselves, their families and their community.”
Since changing over, the company has made a point of hiring workers in recovery, from nearby halfway homes, and from the street, to be a point of refuge “where someone can work to put their life back on track for a few weeks, a few months, maybe forever,” he said. “We love the unlovable, employ the unemployable, and do our best to deliver hope with our actions inside and outside the kitchen.”

Over the last year, the company has grown 40% and has provided food for the Grammys, the Academy Awards, and the X-Games as well as Indy Car and NASCAR events. The company works directly with Door of Hope Transitional Living, Casa del Las Amigas, Walter Hoving Home, and Foothill Unity Center.

In addition, Lancaster’s wife Ann, recently conceived the idea of “Change 4 Change,” a simple idea that has had a profound impact in other countries. The company keeps ten-gallon home water bottles on site and near their desks, and in the offices of clients. All their loose change goes there. The goal of the money is to build clean water wells in Zimbabwe.

As Lancaster explained, “80% of all illness in Africa can be tied to unsafe water. And building a well for clean water is relatively inexpensive, compared to the good it does, and the change it brings.”

In addition, the company donates $1 from every bottle of water it sells to catering clients, and that money also goes to the construction of water wells.

Catering-wise, Hope Café can provide catering for small groups up to the thousands, with a menu that is as adaptable as a client’s wishes. The company also has its own baking facilities and bakes its own breads and cookies.

“We do a lot of BBQ,” says Lancaster, “but we can do anything, really. Mexican, Greek, Chinese, picnic lunches, we can do it all.” The company’s specialties range from themed parties to corporate events to broker’s open houses, weddings and more.

And within each sandwich, and each cookie, and each meal, is a little bit better world.

Hope Café and Catering at Kilroy’s is at 2095 Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena. (626) 449.8757. www.hopecafeandcatering.com.

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