Rittenhouse restaurant reborn as re-entry program
The Rittenhouse in Gypsum will soon get a second lease on life as a local restaurant that in turn provides a second chance for individuals who are re-entering the work world after a serving time in the county jail.
Suvive!, a local non-profit organization that provides an array of services including a restorative justice program in the Eagle County Jail, has purchased the property and intends to open the restaurant as a re-entry program for formerly incarcerated individuals. An anonymous donor contributed the down payment for the property and Survive! plans to create a self-sustaining operation where the restaurant business revenues pay to operate the re-entry program.
According to Devin Effinger of Survive!, the Rittenhouse Restaurant will provide employment for people who have completed jail sentences and participated in restorative justice programs. Eventually the property will also provide lodging, with five bedroom/bathroom units available upstairs.
“The people who will be living here and working here have really turned their lives around and are committed to doing what’s good,” said Effinger. At the Rittenhouse operation they will cook meals, wait on diners, bus tables and clean up as they reacquaint themselves with the world outside of the jail and gain the experience and skills they need to ensure they won’t return to the county’s custody.
For the past seven years, Survive! has provided in-jail restorative justice classes to help inmates gain personal awareness and knowledge allowing for better decision making in the future.
This program was specifically designed for the Eagle County Detention Facility. It is offender based and victim focused which has proven to drastically reduce recidivism.
While the program has been successful in assisting inmates while they are still incarcerated, they still face myriad challenges when they are released from jail. Under a traditional model, a former inmate is reissued his or her clothing and belongings and then released to the community. Oftentimes these individuals do not have family or friends as a support network, making it difficult to find employment or even lodging. The Rittenhouse project would provide a more structured re-entry option for former inmates who have shown strong commitment to changing their behavior and lifestyle choices once their jail sentences are completed.
Community Restaurant and Events Center
Deb Baldwin, Survive! director, envisions the Rittenhouse operating just as any other restaurant does. The facility plans to launch in January with a coffeehouse operation featuring comfy couches, wi-fi and a homey atmosphere augmented by coffee and breakfast service. From there, lunch and dinner service will be added. Baldwin noted that 12 chefs from restaurants stretching from Vail to Aspen have agreed to help out the operation with everything from menu creation to cooking classes.
Eventually, Baldwin envisions the Rittenhouse expanding its options to include party and reception services. As part of the operation, the Rittenhouse will be applying for a liquor service license, and Effinger noted that will be an important milestone for its staff to address. After all, once they are released from jail, former inmates know alcohol is readily available. At Rittenhouse, they can learn effective strategies for alcohol and other challenges in a supportive environment.
Currently work release inmates are volunteering time on Sundays to complete a remodel at the Rittenhouse. When they are done, the Survive! program offices will be located in the basement of the building.
The restored, historic building was the original Lundgren farm house located at the site that now houses the town of Gypsum municipal complex. It was moved to its current site several years ago where it opened as the original Rittenhouse. Because the community is familiar with the former operation, Baldwin said Survive! decided to keep the name Rittenhouse for the restaurant.
“This will be a community restaurant and events center,” she said.