Jonathan Fritts' Success Story

Sometimes it really is about being in the right place at the right time and having faith that one simple act can set off a chain reaction of events that can change your life — for the better — forever.  For 51-year-old Jonathan Fritts, a rising star in the Hospitality Training Academy’s (HTA) new Culinary Apprenticeship Training Program, this is exactly what happened.

Born in New Jersey, Jonathan grew up on the East Coast and lived for many years in New York, Boston and San Francisco. He finally settled in Los Angeles in 1999, which he readily admits he gravitated to for the promise of sunny weather. Throughout the years, Jonathan has tried his hand at many careers, from stock trader to real estate broker. It was while living in Boston, where he joined the American Institute of Wine & Food, that he got his first introduction to the culinary world, as he met and worked side by side with other food enthusiast to learn the art of cooking. Thinking back fondly on this time in his life, Jonathan remembers the joy and excitement he had in taking part in the Institute’s weekly dinners and cooking demonstrations led by such renowned chefs as Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. Upon moving out west, though, cooking wound up taking a backseat to other things, as Jonathan pursued a career as a stock broker and later as real estate broker.

With the collapse of the housing market in 2007, Jonathan was hit with a number of setbacks; and unfortunately, things progressively continued to grow worse for him. In 2012, his real estate business in Hollywood was forced to shut down. Shortly thereafter he separated from a person he had been in a relationship with and became homeless.  During this time, he also struggled with drinking. When his mother passed away in 2017, he was extremely devastated by the loss. With no home or family to turn to locally, Jonathan found himself living in and out of shelters and on the streets.

Ready to take back control of his life and determined to change his situation for the better, Jonathan walked in looking for help to the Boyle Heights WorkSource Center, which is operated by ResCare Workforce Services (RWS). While there, he happened to overhear a case manager talking to the receptionist about a free U.S. Department of Labor registered Culinary Apprenticeship Training Program that was about to be launched by the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA).  Jonathan immediately knew that this was his calling; and ready to reignite his passion for cooking, he wanted in. He asked for a referral and was promptly sent to take part in an orientation the HTA was offering to recruit participants. The 5-week apprenticeship class, which would run from July 10 to August 11, 2017, would be meeting Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at a large training kitchen located inside the historic Belasco Theater in Downtown Los Angeles.  As an apprentice, Jonathan would be learning, through a combination of lectures and practical, hands-on rotations within the kitchen, to develop an understanding and knowledge of safety, sanitation, food handling and preparation procedures designed to move him into a culinary position at a UNITE HERE Local 11 establishment, starting as a Line Cook or Chef de Partie. To Jonathan’s great delight, after going through a rigorous screening and assessment process, he received notification that he had been selected by HTA to join the program.  It is at this point that great things really started happening at a lightning speed for Jonathan.

On the first day of class, Head Culinary Instructor, Chef Mitchell Frieder, and HTA staff learned just how dire Jonathan’s living situation was. Wasting no time, HTA staff immediately sprang into action to see what they could do to help. Prior to enrolling with the HTA, Jonathan had been sleeping on a cot inside a church with approximately 25 other males at the Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights. He shared that he was one day away from timing out of the mission’s 90-day shelter program, and with no where else to turn, he would have no choice but to return to sleeping on the street on park benches, all the while trying to maintain his safety, keep up with his class assignments, and be ready and alert to actively participate in the kitchen and perform with perfection cooking tasks assigned to him in class each day.  The HTA and their team of Directors and Case Mangers was determined to fix this. Jumping on the phone to call around town and researching online how to access emergency housing and homeless shelters in Los Angeles County, HTA staff quickly discovered that if you were a single male who did not fall into a special classification status (i.e., veteran, health, etc.) your options where relatively nonexistent.  What’s more, if you happened to find a shelter, you would need to then somehow, by the early hours of the morning, get to that site (with all your possessions in tow) to line up and wait, often for hours, and find out if there was an open bed you could fill for that night. An impossible situation, as this would mean that Jonathan would need to choose between looking for shelter or attending class each day and taking the steps needed to get back on his feet, the HTA refused to be deterred and tuned to one of its partners who is a well known and respected leader in the Santa Monica community, for her help and advice. Through this link, the HTA leaned about the SHARE! program through which homeless individuals are placed in fully furnished homes where they live together like college roommates paying $500 a month, and can stay as long as needed. Because the organization has rapid rehousing money for SPA 6, which Jonathan qualified for because he had been living on the streets in South Los Angeles, he qualified to receive immediate help through the program at no cost. Working with his HTA Case Manager, Jonathan was able to enroll with SHARE! and, within 24 hours of joining the HTA’s Culinary Apprenticeship Training Program, found himself living in a home in Long Beach, CA, that he could stay at indefinitely and could easily get to and from, as it was in short walking distance to the Metro Link with services to Downtown Los Angeles. So, with housing all settled, Jonathan was now free to fully focus on his culinary training.

Loving class, Jonathan is learning new and valuable kitchen skills and techniques every day. Jonathan shares that he thought he knew how to cook before he started the program, and was surprised at how much he felt like a fish out of water when first entering the class. But Chef Frieder is fantastic, has a great personality and has made the class and learning experience amazing. Provided with a white chef’s coat and given a set of knives, Jonathan is fine-tuning his skills and gaining invaluable cooking knowledge that will lead him far. He says, believe it or not, his favorite thing to prepare so far has been consommé, which he never made before this class. The reason for this is that he is completely amazed at the way to make this clear soup you start out with a viscous, murky soup stock mixture that you keep cooking down and are completely certain will never clarify, when like magic, all of a sudden it does. He says it is an amazing process to see happen.

For certain, Jonathan’s enthusiasm, passion for cooking, and desire to succeed are apparent to all in the program, whether it be the instructor, HTA program staff, his fellow classmates, or our union employer partners who visit the class to see the students in action and determine who might be good candidates for job openings at their companies.  During one such visit, LS & Partners, a high-level airport concession company at LAX, quickly spotted Jonathan and pulled him out of class to interview. Completely won over by his confidence and can-do attitude, they offered him a job on the spot at their luxury, fine dining restaurant, III Forks Steakhouse, located on the Mezzanine Level of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), upon graduating the 150-hour Pre-Apprenticeship in August.  He is already starting the badging process with the LA & Partners and is incredibly excited about joining their team as Cook.

There is no doubt that Jonathan has come an incredibly long way in five weeks and he is so very grateful to the HTA for all they have done for him. Through the program, he is not only on the brink of embarking on an amazing culinary career, but he has also found housing in a comfortable and safe environment and will once again be able to know that he can support himself. As he looks to the future, Jonathan is excited and hopeful. In terms of his culinary career, he hopes to one day possibly manage his own restaurant or even become an Executive Chef — and the HTA has no doubt he can do either!