CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Those cooking and serving your food at restaurants may be struggling to put food on the table themselves, but GO Cook is a program in Charlottesville that provides those with the passion to cook the opportunity to level up in their career.
Shamia Hopkins and Ryan East both have completed Chef Antwon Brinson's Go Cook class at his business, Culinary Concepts AB LLC.
Since then Hopkins has started her own catering service, Three and Me.
"I knew exactly what I wanted to be always, and that was a chef, cook,” said Hopkins. “I just wanted to cook."
And East is now cooking for private events at the Abbott Center Dining Room at the University of Virginia Darden School.
"I wake up in the morning, I get out of bed, I want to cook something,” said East. “I'm in the kitchen probably 90 percent of my day, and I enjoy it. I love it."
East said even though he's always had a passion for cooking, the safety net of a stable job was not always there.
"This is my first job in my entire life where I can actually get full medical benefits,” said East.
He said despite getting promotions, the hours and wage of his first cooking job, while helping to raise six kids with his girlfriend, took a toll on him.
According to the website Glassdoor, line cook salaries in Charlottesville average at about $25,000 a year.
"I loved it and I hated it,” said East. “It was just a line cook position so I was going, go, go all the time."
Hopkins has been cooking for about ten years now. She said her first job paid less than the current minimum wage.
"I've gotten paid as low as six dollars and 50 cents," she said.
She said to be a role model for her three kids, she wanted something more.
"I just knew that I didn't want to work for someone else for the rest of my life,” said Hopkins. “I kind of wanted to do my own thing my own version of cooking."
Brinson's class is for people like East and Hopkins.
"The goal with the program is the transition that needs to happen mentally to go from I have a job to I have a career,” said Brinson.
Brinson started the GO Cook class spring of 2018. The five-week, five days a week program ends with participants earning their ServSafe and Cook certifications. Then he connects the graduates with jobs or contacts that will take their career to the next step.
"If you can commit to a part-time job I'll get you a full-time job,” said Brinson. “It's pretty much that simple."
In a study last year from NPD Market, researchers said that Charlottesville has 498 restaurants, which means the city ranks 11th in the nation for restaurants per capita. Despite that, Brinson said many cooks feel like their options are limited.
"Especially in the African-American community, you have a lot of folks that just don't go downtown for jobs,” said Brinson. “They don't feel that they're welcomed there. 'That place is bougie I can't work there.’"
Brinson said his class gives his students the confidence they need.
"Helping them really kind of start to break down those barriers,” said Brinson. “‘You know what maybe I could work down there. Now that I know what this stuff is I can probably go down there I've looked at their menu, I've seen these items on their menu, I can work there.’"
Brinson is partnered with more than 58 restaurants around the city interested in making his students their new employees, and he makes sure these chefs are also mentors for his students.
"If you want to hire my students you have to pay a minimum of $12.50. Almost every single employer pays above that,” said Brinson. “I'm giving you an opportunity to take someone who's agile, that's hungry, that is looking for continued development for you to pour into."
He said restaurants should raise salaries of cooks and view it as a long-term investment.
East said if he didn't take this class he would have felt stuck.
"I still would have just been looking for any job just to make money, to help pay bills, make ends meet,” said East. “With this class, it kinda showed me more with self-worth.”
And Hopkins said without the class, she wouldn't have the support system she has now.
"It's been a year now and I have the same amount of support, if not more, since being in this class to help me find the resources that I need to to help me be able to do my catering business,” said Hopkins. “Or anything that I want to do for that matter."
This story is in partner with Charlottesville Tomorrow. Hear more from Hopkins, East, and Brinson in their article in the Related Links box.