Photos by Nicholas Wray

Plates 2 Go

1725 L Street – Sacramento, CA

Comprehensive sustainability—we’re talking beyond going green. Yes, Plates 2 Go uses local, sustainable and organic ingredients for its menu items. And packages it all up neatly in biodegradable take-away containers. But beyond those appreciated, environmentally conscious endeavors, Plates 2 Go offers social sustainability in the form of true welfare reform, an opportunity for mothers in crisis to garner on-the-job training and regain their independence following homelessness.

St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children doesn’t just house women and their children who are down on their luck. They offer free drug and alcohol counseling, GED and educational assistance, therapy, life skills coaching such as resume writing help, and most importantly, an employment training program that has child care and transportation needs covered. In fact, they’ve created three businesses that serve the community while teaching these women the skills they will need for job placement after they leave the shelter program: Plates Café and Catering, First Steps Child Development Center and most recently, Plates 2 Go.

Plates 2 Go is a brand-new restaurant that caters to busy professionals on their lunch breaks in the heart of Midtown. Expounding upon the concept that has its full-service predecessor, Plates Café and Catering, already in the black, Plates 2 Go operates out of a donated church space at 1725 L Street and offers grab and go eats that are healthy and sustainable. The profits from both endeavors feed into other programs at St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children.

The women of Plates 2 Go are mentored by Mulvaney’s B&L, and after learning the ropes, are often hired to work for Mulvaney’s, one of Sacramento’s finest dining establishments, or other local restaurants. In fact, St. John’s Employment Training Program has facilitated job placement for 93 percent of its program graduates.

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Upon entering Plates 2 Go, which had its grand opening on Aug. 13, 2013 a friendly attendant greeted us cheerfully. The space was clean without putting on frills, and photo collages of women and their families were posted throughout, telling the stories of women whose lives had been transformed by St. John’s program. There were tables for those who wished to dine in, and a conference room available for business lunches and meetings.

With such a credible and impressive affiliation as Mulvaney’s B&L, you probably don’t need us to tell you that the food was good. Real good. And in keeping with the benefits of locally sourced, seasonal fare, it’s affordable, too. They even make all their sauces and dressings from scratch.

nicholas wray, sacramento photographer

Nicholas Wray (who was taking photos while I took notes) split lunch with me so we could try a few items. We had the spicy Greek vegetarian sandwich, a careful assemblage of marinated eggplant, roasted red peppers, English cucumbers, feta cheese, arugula, balsamic vinegar and homemade hummus on Grateful Bread’s lightly toasted nine grain bread. We also tried the CalMex salad, a colorful and crisp menagerie of hearts of romaine, sweet corn, black beans, avocado, cherry tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, radishes, Cotija cheese and tortilla strips, all tossed with a fire-roasted pasilla chile ranch dressing. The salad was so fresh I wanted to slap it.

To top it all off, we ordered a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Everything was frigging awesome, and even more awesome were the attitudes and exceptional service shining brightly from the ladies behind the counter. They seemed so upbeat and happy to be there you could hardly imagine what obstacles they’d recently surmounted to hold a position at Plates 2 Go.

I briefly chatted up a worker by the name of Stepphanie Nevin, the mother of a 5-year-old son, who lost her home to foreclosure in 2010. She informed me that some of the women that work at Plates Café and Plates 2 Go are still in the program, while others have graduated but still work there. “When I was [at the shelter] we were like a family. It’s more of a sisterhood. It’s nice seeing people who were on the bottom come up to the top. It’s life-changing,” she explained.

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Nevin now has her own apartment in Midtown and her son attends kindergarten. After working for Mulvaney’s B&L and the Sacramento State University restaurant, she returned to the Plates family after being offered the position of Front of House Manager at the newly opened Plates 2 Go. She loves helping to train new co-workers from the shelter and proudly beamed, “We get to help people who were in the position we were once in.”

Get out your tissue boxes. The story on the back of the Plates 2 Go’s menu about the sous chef of Plates Café really moved me and undoubtedly serves as an inspiration to many men and women who have lost their independence by loving an abuser.

Mary Scott, pictured as standing tall in her clean white chef’s coat, was the victim of a 25-year abusive relationship. She recounts, “I was to be seen, not heard. I was not allowed to have an opinion.” Finally escaping the cycle of violence, Scott sought refuge and the reinstatement of her self-esteem in St. John’s Shelter Program and with its help, she fought her way back to a firm stance on her own feet. Today, she takes pride in her work, and moreover in her self-sufficiency.

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Every woman offering up delicious, ethical fare at Plates Café and Plates 2 Go has a story like this one behind their hard-won smiles. It is because of these amazing stories that a growing number of local businesses and patrons are taking notice and finding ways to help.

Every first Thursday of the month, Plates Café hosts a Guest Chef Dinner, which exposes program participants to local wineries and restaurants, furthers the farm-to-fork movement and educates the community about how Plates is reshaping individual lives, as well as the financial health of our society by helping to reduce welfare dependence.

Sacramento, it’s a no-brainer. For roughly the same amount of bread that you would throw down to have lunch at Subway or Togo’s, you could grab an equally convenient sandwich or salad at Plates 2 Go. Money well spent, since supporting this inspiring and meaningful community endeavor empowers families, contributes to the success of local farms…and its nourishing dishes just taste better.

Got an appetite for change? Dig in.

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Plates 2 Go is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit to place orders online or read more success stories of program participants.