kids and salsa

This is a followup to Emilia’s previous post and it makes me want to weep with gratitude. This is one way we can change things. —M.R.

By Emilia Juocys

Last weekend I went to Columbus, Ohio, to help my friend Tricia Keels run her Backyard Kids’ Restaurant. To see a suburban backyard transform into a restaurant is amazing, and to watch all the children and parents participate in this event is inspirational. The energy level is so high and it’s such a positive affirming experience. Plus, I get to teach both children and adults about food!

For this year’s menu we offered house-made Italian sausages, Swedish meatballs, an insanely good Swedish meatball gravy (beef demiglace, sautéed onions, vermouth, cream), cucumber salsa, a jumbo Glad bag of tortilla chips, black beans, pickled okra, lots of grilled vegetables, house-ground flour pancakes, local blueberry compote, three hotel pans of peach cobbler, and ice cream cookie sandwiches. We had a huge mise en place list of items to prepare for the dinner. Kids manned the sausage-making station, filled all the condiment containers (with salsa, syrup, compote, and sauces), made pancakes, cut watermelon, made cobbler topping, formed meatballs, and assembled the ice cream sandwiches. Everything was made, everything was eaten—and no one cried!

We had 20 kids participate in cooking, serving, and being mentored into being full-time cooks and servers for next year. Adults assisted in the setup of the dining room, kitchen, and lounge area. The kids served 200+ meals to the guests who came to dinner on Saturday night. More than $1500 was raised to support DARN (Developmental Assets Resource Network).

Here are some glimpses of our eventful weekend:

yard dining room

The backyard is filled with happy guests. Photo by Chris Keels.

The Keels’ backyard has a deck, chicken coop, trampoline, small garden, basketball hoop, and a compost pile. In two hours it became a full outdoor dining room with a makeshift bar and lounge area. Fresh flowers, various sized tables and chairs, and colorful tablecloths adorned the backyard. Anyone walking by was drawn in by all of the music, laughter, and energy coming from this event.

“The hardest part of the night is getting people to get up from their tables! They love it. The food, the band, the comfort of the backyard with neighbors all working together. Who wouldn’t want to stay all night? But I’ve watched this thing grow and these kids need to turn tables. Next year we’re going to need a bigger lounge area.”
Ivena, mother of two, participated for the past three years

Tricia meets with the front of the house staff. Photo by Chris Keels.

The kids all arrived at 10:00am for their service meeting. Tricia filled all the kids in on the menu, their jobs, who they would be partnered with. After the meeting the kids helped roll silverware and do various jobs in the kitchen. The kitchen was filled with laughter, screams, and chatter. I still love it when I have to lift kids up to wash their hands in the kitchen sink. Around noon they all disappeared, then arrived back at 4:00 to prepare for service.

“I’ve always wanted to be a waiter because my dad did it in college. It was cool to have my own tables and to serve people I knew. I could give them advice, like that the pancakes were really good. And it was awesome to get tips!” 
Caedmon (8), first-year participant 

em and margot

Emilia helping Margot (5) make Italian sausage for the first time. Photo by Chris Keels.

“This was my first year volunteering. I’d worked at restaurants before but I had no idea what I was getting into with this. They threw me right into the middle of the kitchen, plating up most of the entrees and prepping sides and the rest. It was really intense and really fun. I was amazed at the volume of food we moved through that kitchen and the quality of what we were serving up. It was like a real restaurant.”
Judd, father of Caedmon (8), first-year participant

“I will always help a friend. I love working with talented, smart, and good people, and my husband and I believe strongly in teaching our kids strong work ethics and compassion. We get to check all those boxes with Keels Backyard Restaurant—and eat creative, local, homemade food. We’d be crazy not to be involved. I’m also amazed every year that the kids and the Keels pull this off with a smile, so the spectator in me loves to be there just to observe.”
Nikki, mother of Hunter (13) and Scarlet (8), second-year participant 


Atticus patiently waiting to take an order.

“I continue to help because being part of something like this allows me to watch my neighborhood kids work together and figure things out on the fly, marvel in how they change gears effortlessly and problem solve, making decisive and quick workarounds. The fact that they want to volunteer is evident. The look of accomplishment on the kids’ faces and the delight of the customers’ faces make me, an empty nester, want a ‘do over’ and to time travel backward so that my grown children could partake.”
Emi, a neighbor who has volunteered for the past three years

Who knows how many will work in the culinary world or where they will be when they grow up? But they will always remember the day they were a part of this extraordinary restaurant experience. And there is still time to donate to their Fundly campaign!

I can’t wait for next year.

If you liked this post, take a look at these links:

© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.