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5000 Pies: Transforming the Lives of Youth Through Culinary Art

5000 Pies: Transforming the Lives of Youth Through Culinary Art

Jeanette Lem

In the heart of West Long Beach, a remarkable takeout restaurant known as “5000 Pies” stands as a beacon of hope and transformation for the community. With a mission to empower youth through culinary and life skills, this establishment has been making a lasting impact over the last nine years. Founded by the Fountain of Life Covenant Church, 5000 Pies emerged from a vision to serve both faith and community and eventually become a haven for high school students seeking personal growth and meaningful experiences.

Image of Cabrillo High School students posing with pizzas they made from scratch via the 5000 Pies Facebook page.

A little over a decade ago, a group of dedicated church members from the Fountain of Life Covenant Church began seeking ways to serve their community and express their faith. Chef Mike Martinez and a few other passionate individuals had the concept of introducing a Cbdeep-dish pizza eatery into the neighborhood, since nothing like it existed on the West Side. However, limited funds initially prevented the realization of this vision.

It wasn’t until 2013 that fate smiled upon the church’s endeavor. An anonymous donor’s generous contribution provided the much-needed financial backing to bring 5000 Pies to life. With the means finally at hand, the team eagerly set their plan into motion, ready to make a positive mark on the West Long Beach community. “We were really excited, but we didn’t know how it was going to go once we finally opened up our first year,” Martinez said. “There isn’t a lot of foot traffic in West Side Long Beach, but we hoped maybe the restaurant could change that a bit.”

Image of one of 5000 pies signature deep dish pizzas via Yelp.

5000 Pies opened its doors with a dual purpose: to offer exceptional food and to create a space for growth within the community. Initially employing single mothers and former gang members seeking a fresh start, the restaurant’s focus soon shifted toward engaging high school students. Situated in close proximity to Cabrillo High School, 5000 Pies recognized an opportunity to make a difference in young lives by teaching them valuable culinary and life skills.

As students joined the 5000 Pies team, it became evident that the restaurant was more than just a place to learn cooking techniques. While kitchen skills were essential, the establishment also emphasized the development of crucial social skills. Each student brought their unique strengths and challenges to the table, reflecting the diverse array of personalities and backgrounds.

Image of Chef Mike Martinez taken by Thomas R. Cordova of Press-Telegram.

Over time, many students who initially struggled to break out of their shells found themselves building confidence, making friends, and gaining valuable interpersonal skills. “We had one kid who was really quiet and to himself when he first started,” Martinez said, “but after working with us for a while he told us that because of this job, he was able to start making friends. Things like that make it worth it for us. We may not see the long-term effect but at least we know they’re going to go out into the world with some of the skills they learned here.”

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Martinez, who has had 25 years of experience as a chef, has chosen to prioritize the restaurant’s mission over accolades. “Working this job is not always easy,” he said. “I could have left a long time ago, and I have put my career on the back burner to work for God and work with these kids but I don’t regret it. “I care more about God’s kingdom than I do the Michelin star.”

Image of students preparing pizzas via the 5000 Pies Facebook page.

Looking back, he recognizes the individuals who have passed through 5000 Pies, each contributing to the restaurant’s tapestry of impact. As students graduate and move on, the positive influence of 5000 Pies continues to ripple through their endeavors, a true testament to the transformative potential of culinary art and human connection.

5000 Pies stands as a symbol of empowerment and transformation in the heart of West Long Beach. Through its unique approach of teaching culinary and life skills, this takeout restaurant has not only introduced deep-dish pizza to the neighborhood but has also changed the trajectories of young lives. As each student steps into the kitchen and interacts with the team, they are not merely learning to cook; they are gaining the confidence, social skills, and resilience to succeed in life. 5000 Pies continues to make a lasting impact on the community it serves, one slice of pizza and one transformed life at a time.

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