Milwaukee's Troop Cafe putting veterans to work

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- When veterans transition into a civilian life, often the most difficult thing is finding a job. A lot of times it's because service men and women don't have enough experience in a specific position. A new program in Milwaukee aims to solve both of those problems at the same time.

Rick Kruchten spent a decade in the Navy -- leaving the service in 2001. Since then, he's gone from job to job, never quite finding the right career.

"Being in the military is kind of like going through a paper shredder, so you need some time to kind of put things back together. That's an on-going process I think will probably never end," Kruchten said.

As to major wars wind down, Kruchten is not alone in that struggle. There are 2.3 million veterans coming home right now.

With that in mind, Milwaukee's Center for Veterans Issues came up with Troop Cafe.

The cafe is located inside Veterans Manor at 35th and Wisconsin -- and it's not your ordinary sandwich shop.

CVI is billing the cafe as the first-of-its-kind in the country: a non-profit cafe designed to train homeless or unemployed veterans like Kruchten for a career in food service.

"If you're going to be employing individuals, if you're going to be training individuals, let's infuse the mission throughout and train veterans in food service and hospitality, place them here in Troop Cafe, but then when they graduate they get certified in ServSafe certification and placed with our partners in the industry out in the community," Dawn Nuoffer with CVI said.

The first crop of veteran trainees is learning everything about the restaurant biz, from front-of-the-house customer service to back-of-the-house prep.

"We all have to be ready to pitch in everywhere.  Sometimes it's being back here doing dishes, but it's very important," Kruchten said.

Even though its mission is to train veterans, the cafe also focuses on serving its customers quality food.

Chris Kadrich is the cafe's manager, and a former Marine.

"When we put out something we want to make sure that it's something unique, or that it's going to be better than 95% of the other places you're going to get it," Kadrich said.

Though the cafe hasn't had a grand opening ceremony, word has spread quickly of its existence since the soft opening in May. The veterans and visionaries behind the concept are hoping this pilot project is the first of many similar programs.

"The potential for training and expanding into different projects is limitless and in our vision hopefully we'll see more Troop Cafes opening up all over the country so that any vet that's looking for work and truly wants to help themselves has got an opportunity to do that," Kadrich said.

"We know what we need to do. We all take ownership and responsibility for the program and we all take pride in what we do and make sure that in the future that this continues and hopefully catches on throughout the country," Kruchten said.

Troop Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and is open to the public.