Downtown Charlotte – which the locals call “Uptown” – is a banking center. The 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center is the headquarters for the country’s second largest bank. Corporate types in dark suits and starched shirts have for years been one of the city’s trademarks.
But just two blocks from Bank of America’s headquarters sits The King’s Kitchen. A sign in the restaurant’s lobby carries this verse, from Proverbs 19:17: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”
The King’s Kitchen has become a popular lunch spot for the bankers and other business leaders. They come for the restaurant’s signature dish: Aunt Beaut’s panfried chicken. Other dishes are classic Southern-style comfort food: cornbread, banana pudding, shrimp and grits.
But the Bible verse on the wall is not the only sign that this restaurant serves a healthy dose of the Gospel with its food. The King’s Kitchen, run by successful North Carolina restaurateur Jim Noble, trains recovering addicts, ex-convicts, and at-risk youth in business and culinary skills. Any profits generated by the restaurant go to ministries in Charlotte that feed the hungry. The mission statement is available to all diners to take and read while they wait for their table. It says, in part, that The King’s Kitchen exists to “feed the hungry and to heal the brokenhearted.”
Blending ministry and meals is not a new idea for Jim Noble. Before The Food Network started turning out celebrity chefs by the barrel, Jim Noble already had a reputation as one of North Carolina’s most innovative chefs, with restaurants not just in Charlotte, but also in Winston-Salem and High Point.
Noble had been attending church for years, but his faith did not come alive until the early 1990s, when he and his wife Karen had a daughter, Olivia, who became sick with viral encephalitis. Noble told Our State magazine: “We almost lost her. We realized no one could help us, so we turned to God. We began to see answers to our questions, and we were amazed at what we found. So we started teaching people.”
As a part of their growing faith, they started caring for the poor, which Noble considers a “scriptural command.” At first, that work included feeding the homeless in their restaurants on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2005, they cooked meals for families fleeing Hurricane Katrina. The idea for The King’s Kitchen was Karen’s, Jim says, and it opened in 2010. The restaurant turns a profit, but it also takes donations for its educational programs. Noble hires people other businesses consider unemployable and gives them the skills and experience to move on to other jobs. As the organization’s mission statement says, the goal of The King’s Kitchen is to “feed the spiritual and physical needs of those who have the least in our community and to train and equip those previously unemployable in the restaurant trade.”
But Jim Noble knows the food has to be good, too. Producing excellent meals not only brings customers back, but it also teaches discipline and sets a new standard of excellence for the employees of the restaurant, employees who were never expected to achieve excellence in any area of life. Teaching people who had never had steady employment what it means to be a part of a successful business with a reputation for excellence is as much a part of the ministry of The King’s Kitchen as feeding the hungry at Thanksgiving.
As the organization’s mission statement concludes: “The King’s Kitchen will operate in the spirit of excellence by training and equipping the whole person (spirit, soul and body) thereby sending out developed leaders into our community.”
This article is one in a series based on the ideas in the book Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan To Change The World Through Everyday People by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. To see all the articles in this series, click here. If you know of an individual or ministry that might make a good “Restoring All Things” profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org