For owner MaryAnne Monteith, transforming lives is far more important than turning a profit in the restaurant industry.
Monteith, 63, founded and opened The Forge, a local community kitchen, last summer.
“Life is not about making money, it’s about something more,” she said.
Located on South First Street, Monteith’s restaurant only suggests prices for its fare, and the prices are kept intentionally low. She hires employees who need help getting back on their feet, regardless of their background. To Monteith, every individual has intrinsic wealth and beauty, no matter how broken and battered they appear.
“When you take a worthless piece of metal out of the ground and take it to a blacksmith, they mold it and melt it. They hammer it into something beautiful. That’s what The Forge is about, changing broken lives,” Monteith said. “We’re here on drug and prostitute row, everybody has a story.”
Meals and Ministry
A 17-year-old walked into The Forge looking for work on Wednesday. His jeans were ripped, and his shoes were oversized. He sat across the table from Monteith, and she began to ask him questions. He never spoke; he would only nod.
“Have you ever been hurt,” she asked. “Have bad things happened to you?”
She never asked him about his experience, his history or why he needed work. She didn’t need to; she already knew. Monteith reached out and grabbed his hands to pray with him. His eyes were wide-open for the first half of the prayer, but he closed them tight for the second half. She hired him on the spot.
“God takes people places for a reason,” she told him. “We draw people in here, telling them we’re going to feed them, but what we really want is to tell them about Jesus.”
At the next table, Jack Shannon, a homeless man, is waiting to see if he can do anything to help Monteith. He said she has helped him, and now he wants to help her.
“I’m a stone-hard alcoholic. I live on the streets,” Shannon said. “This is a place where if you are cold, you can come in and sit down. If you need love, just come in and sit down.”
The Forge is divided into two main spaces: a pastel yellow dining room and an entrance area featuring a scuffed, black baby grand piano. Next to the piano, at the linoleum-topped counter, patrons place their orders. A paper sign above the doorway tells The Forge’s intended purpose: “When God closes one door, He opens another.”
Monteith said she wants food at The Forge to be affordable and tasty. A cheesecake beneath a glass-domed cake stand on the counter is just one of many homemade treats she makes each day. Her goal is to minister to everyone though delicious food.
Earlier this month, it seemed like The Forge might not survive. The deadline for closing on the property was quickly approaching, and Monteith was short on funds to make the closing payment. However, while things looked bleak, Monteith said she never lost faith.
She met with the owners of the property and told them her story. They agreed to extend the time she had to make the payment and told her to just pay whatever she can.
“It was a crisis averted because of God. He intervened and showed me favor.”
A Higher Calling
Monteith said she believed her decision to begin The Forge was God-ordained. She said she always has had a heart for missions and was praying for God to point her in the next direction she should go.
“When the Lord began to speak and tell me to do this, I was on my porch praying and listening, but I didn’t have an answer,” Monteith said. “He said a non-profit restaurant. It was the last thing I imagined I’d be doing.”
Monteith said her goal is to minister and to pray for whoever comes into her restaurant and help them with whatever struggles they may be experiencing. She said she also hopes the ministry eventually will spread beyond the walls of the restaurant.
“If you walk in here and don’t feel the Holy Spirit, I’d be surprised,” Monteith said. “A lot of people off the street come in here beaten and bruised. This place can be the start of a lifetime of growth.”
Monteith has yet to miss a payment on her bills or her taxes, but the restaurant still needs help. She said college students could help by just coming in to purchase food and eat. She also said the restaurant always is in need of volunteers, including college students.
“Students can come in and eat, and I’d be delighted,” Monteith said. “But I could really use some help with fundraising. I’m really bad at that.”
The Forge is located at 2801 South First St. in the former Hot Dog Castle buiding.