Hollywood Diner’s Chef Richard (Rico) White fights for Baltimore’s at-risk youth

Chef Richard (Rico) White , owner of the Hollywood Diner, started Thomasino’s Training Program for at-risk youth ages 16 to 25. He teaches them everything about the restaurant business, from cooking to balancing the books. Three of the four graduates of his training program have gone onto to pursue or study careers in the culinary arts industry, cooking on a cruise liner and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Amber Wilson, 24,  is one of the seven youths in the training program.  “I was a shoplifter at 16, 17 and 18. I had the police almost called on me; I got into this training program and haven’t stolen anything in over six years.”

“I like it here. It’s open. If I have a problem of any type I can talk to Chef Rico. His door is always open.” she continued, “I’m on route to become a certified trainer to help the next crop of kids who come in. I was at his first location. I left a job to come to this one.”

Charles Perlie, 20, is another of  White’s trainees.  “I was enrolled in YO Baltimore GED School. The school ran out of funding for me to be in the training program here. Chef Rico said he’d keep me, funding or no funding.”

Richard White, Chef Rico, with two of his trainees at the Hollywood Diner. (photo by the author)
Richard White, Chef Rico, with two of his trainees at the Hollywood Diner.
(photo by the author)

Perlie had this to say about the program, “It helps me work with everyday living and situations I have. I like that I get to train within the food service area. It’s a strict training program because he only wants better for us. I appreciate every little thing that I have been taught here and the knowledge I have obtained.”

One would think, after reading the comments of these Thomasino’s program trainees, that things are great with the Hollywood Diner. Unfortunately, it’s just not the case. White  is fighting to save not only Baltimore’s youth but also his training program and the Hollywood Diner itself.

City employees used to make up the majority of his lunch rush, White said. That crowd has dwindled down significantly after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blasted the program. “This has been a model that hasn’t worked. At what point are we making a determination that the underlying model is the problem?” she said.

“I have trained more youth in the past eight months than the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development. They lost their lease on the diner for not training enough youth.” White said.

When asked about the future,  White had this to say, “I believe that the Mayor wants the land the diner sits on. She has ideas for some other kind of redevelopment here.”

“We intend on the City honoring their contract with our 18 month lease which is up in April 2014. In that time, we want the option of the city giving us full possession of the diner or to propose a sale for it. We would like to keep it where it is. If we acquire possession, we are completely open to moving it to a new location.” White said.

Hollywood Diner (Anthony C. Hayes)
Hollywood Diner (Anthony C. Hayes)

The Hollywood Diner has awesome food at decent prices. White personally made me the crab dip to order. You don’t get such personalized exceptional service most places these days.

The Hollywood Diner is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

I was thrilled to hear that the diner will start having Saturday hours (7 a.m. to 2 p.m.) starting June 22nd. If you have never been to the Hollywood Diner pay a visit and support White and his trainees.

The future of Baltimore depends on it.

(Feature photo by Anthony C. Hayes.)