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Tampa airport and Metropolitan Ministries celebrate culinary program partnership

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Two years in the making, Metropolitan Ministries Inside the Box grab and gourmet sandwiches and salads have been available for purchase for travelers boarding flights at the Southwest Airlines terminal at Tampa International Airport since the beginning of this month.

As is the case with their retail cafes in downtown Tampa and the Westshore area, all of the items for sale are prepared by men and women transitioning out of being homeless while staying at the Florida Avenue facility in Tampa.

That includes Joshua Keene, 36 from Tampa, who has been with Metropolitan Ministries for the past three months. He’s soon going to move on an intern at Mise en Place, and says he has the ultimate desire to run his own establishment.

It wasn’t that long ago that there weren’t any local “concepts” at TIA (i.e. restaurants and bars), but the airport has joined the national trend of airports adding local restaurants to their mix of chain brands involved in the concessions business in recent years.

Now, TIA CEO Joe Lopano says, there are between 30 to 40 local bars and restaurants at the airport that previously didn’t exist.

“We’re teaching people what the dining experience is like in Tampa, and that was great,” he said Wednesday. “I never would have imagined that we could have helped all these young people here today learning how to be chefs.”

The marriage between TIA and Metropolitan Ministries and their culinary program came via Susan Stackhouse, the CEO & President of Stellar Partners. The company is based in Tampa but has retail outlets in major airports in New York (JFK), Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, Washington and San Diego. As Stackhouse contemplated how her company could find a niche to compete when the bids went out for new concessionaires, she says she reached out to Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks, as she was familiar with the Inside the Box cafe at Westshore. She said she asked him if they could take his “great product and modify it and package it in a way that could work at the airport, and he was completely open to it.”

Marks says that there are generally 10-12 students who are with the
Inside The Box Culinary Arts program on an ongoing rotation basis. He says that if somebody comes to the organization with a desire to get involved in the program they can fit them in immediately.

“What’s going to separate them from a 12-month culinary program, is how they work in a production environment, ” Marks says. With Metropolitan Ministries there are several, including the two cafes, and the hunger programs on the Metropolitan Ministries campus.

“This is a program that’s really geared towards educating them and help them find a job and hold that job,” he adds.

Among the fare that can be purchased from Inside the Box include chicken and waffles, pressed Cubans, house-made chips, and cheesecakes.

“This is not just a bologna sandwich, this is really good stuff.” said Lopano, who added that he was “honored” to be part of the Culinary Arts Program mission. “I’m very proud of all of you on how you’re changing your lives,” he said to the Inside the Box workers who stood a few feet away from him at the press conference.




Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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