SEATTLE -- When Young Cho and Jimmy Bui opened their restaurant in May, they did not expect to bring change to some kids in the South Park community. Phorale receives glowing reviews on Yelp for its Asian-fusion menu, but it is now getting attention for the service it's providing to neighborhood kids.
The restaurant sits inside a convenient store called South Park Food Center, and on a given day, you'll find 11-year-old Saylen Kelly cleaning or prepping food. He used to hang out around the store in the summer and ask for money and small jobs. Eventually, Cho and Bui started giving paying him to do tasks like sweep or take out the garbage.
"It kind of stuck," said Cho. "He started coming back every single day, and then he started bringing his cousins and his friends. In a matter of a couple of weeks, we had six or seven kids every single day during in the summertime asking if we had any jobs we could give them."
Soon enough the owners were spending an extra $200 a week to help keep these kids busy and out of trouble. A short time later, the South Park Community Center took notice and helped create an official program with the city of Seattle. Under the program, kids get their food handlers permit and work 120 hours before getting paid $599. With school and life, Saylen has stayed committed.
"I'm the type of kid that keeps their job," he said. "It just gets my stress out when I'm mad about stuff."
Saylen says he's going to buy a bike with the new money and continue working at Phorale.
"Honestly it's really cool," said Cho. "I wish that other restaurants in different areas would be able to kind of follow our trend. It could really become a blossoming project where a lot of restaurants are picking up these children and giving them hands-on experience."
The South Park Community Center recently awarded Cho and Bui with an unsung heroes award for the impact they've made in the neighborhood. In the meantime, the restaurant keeps moving forward. Cho says he wants to plan a junior apprentice pop-up night when Saylen can conceptualize a menu and run the kitchen. Saylen says he is already thinking of truffle macaroni and cheese and wagyu steak.
"It's a fact that restaurant industry workers are on the decline because it's long hours and it's tough work," said Cho. "If we can empower this passion into these kids, then we'll have a great industry."