Chef Paul’s Story

Working within an economically growing community, in financially healthy state, in one of the most wealthy nations of the world, the staff of OSL are surrounded each day by individuals who struggle with not having enough to eat. The base issue behind the need for organizations like ours is simple: Poverty.

In the midst 99% movement, the conversations about a higher minimum wage within the limits of the City of Seattle, we are bombarded with amazing statistics: 15.1% of households live in extreme poverty in the county, and these households shelters one out of three African American children. The average CEO earns in one hour of work what their average paid employee makes in one month. Income inequality is alive in well in this a world.

At OSL we work break the cycle of poverty. We pay sustainable wages, and often hire from our client base. At the time that this is being published, at least 62% of the individuals employed by OSL have had experiences with homelessness, substance issues, or have been victims of domestic violence. This gives our staff a unique connection with our clientele. It also requires OSL to practice patience, and forgiveness as an employer. We provide training and benefits to those whom others deem unemployable. We offer a second, or third or fourth, chance to those who are able to ask, and even to those who are not. Not all of our stories have happy endings, but some of them do.

Chef Paul is a wonderful player on the OSL team, and today we share with you his story, told in his own words.

I knew as a young boy at the age of 12 that I would be involved in the food industry one way or another. My father was in the restaurant business and I thought I wanted to be just like him. I spent much of my youth learning to become a master cake decorator and by the time I was 18 the doors were wide open. The world, as they say, was my oyster. I went to work for Kroeger’s as a cake decorator and pastry chef for 11 years, however I had a dark secret that started to send me in a downward spiral; the long destructive path of drug abuse.

I spent 20 years going from town to town and sofa to sofa still denying I had any sort of problem. I became a great prevaricator and was able to camouflage my addictions for long periods of time. In October of 2005 I moved to Seattle still very addicted to cocaine. I learned to be an excellent story teller and could blend into any environment like a chameleon. I came up with an elaborate account that I was a Hurricane Katrina evacuee in hopes that someone would take pity on me and give me a place to stay. Things got out of hand and one lie led to another which led to another and before I knew it know it I was up to my eyeballs in lies. The problem with lying, with living life as a lie, is that it erodes into your very soul and not only does your self- esteem disintegrate, but it is impossible to remember what you told to whom. Pretty soon the discrepancies become apparent.

Anyway, I ended up homeless and became a client of the Compass Center in Seattle where I was given shelter and some hope. There, I met Beverly Graham and Krista Grimm from OPERATION: Sack Lunch. The lies continued to grow because I wanted to impress them. They embraced me like I was a family member and before I knew it OSL offered me a job in the kitchen as a cook and a few months later they offered me a dream job as the Executive Chef and Instructor of OCCUPATION Next Step, a pilot program training homeless people to become Chefs.

I thought everything would work itself out even though I was still heavily addicted to cocaine. I was trying very hard to live the lies that I had dreamed up in my head and told to everyone. The foundation is false and so not one part of my life was real. Beverly and her staff, the volunteers, and many others involved with OSL believed in me and praised my talents, but inside I felt dead. Before I knew it the stress of the lies, the deceit and the drug use was beginning to destroy me. I was at the end of my rope and the noose was getting tighter and I was caught in my deception.

Beverly did not prosecute me nor persecute me. She loved me. It was harder than anything I ever had experienced; to be loved inside my shame. Beverly exercised “tough love” and I was fired. I had nowhere to go, no family to turn to because they weren’t speaking to me, so I finally decided to seek help.

On January 11th, 2007, I went into treatment for my drug addiction. I moved into clean and sober housing and things began to change for me. After my treatment I only talked to Beverly a few times just to stay in touch and to let her know that I was doing O.K. She never made any judgments about my past but only loved me. For the first time in my life I realized what it felt like to have love and to love myself. The conversations that Beverly and I were having became more frequent, and finally I was able to go visit her at her home….whew! I thought it was going to be one of the hardest things I ever had to do but it turned out to be one of the best moments in my life.

I have been clean and sober now for more than 7 years. I now have my family back in my life and I have Beverly, Krista, and my OSL family back as well. In January of 2010 I signed a lease on my very first apartment ever! At 47 yrs old, I had never lived alone or had had anything I treasure to speak of. I now have a love for myself, my family and my OSL family and I was rehired as the kitchen manager for OSL in June 2010.

I now know the real meaning of honesty and compassion. I know that throughout our lives we meet people along the way for a reason. I never wanted to take the time to know why, but now I believe I do know why. Some people are just there and others you meet because they are there to guide and support you through the rough times. Then there are people like Beverly and the OSL organization that shows us how to truly love others even if they are outcast and undesirable. People can change when they are truly forgiven.

~ Chef Paul Nicolosi

Chef Paul was rehired in June of 2010, and has been an affirmation that love can heal even the most damaged heart. It takes courage and integrity to seek help. It takes determination to change a lifetime of behavior challenges one day at a time. It takes true humility to ask for forgiveness. Chef Paul plays a leadership role in our organization as a member of our kitchen leadership team. He is loved and admired by our clients and volunteers, and his contributions to OSL are a tribute to his own personal excellence. He has vision, humor, and humility, participates in the training of our chef staff, and continues to create superb culinary delights.

Thank you, Chef Paul, for allowing us to share your story.


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Latino Heat & OSL

For several years, OSL has a great relationship with Latino Heat. Our two organizations work together to help individuals learn that adequate nutrition is a right, not a privilege we earn.

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The Management Side of the Outdoor Meal Site

Since the City of Seattle and OSL collaboration began in 2007, OSL has had the responsibility to manage the Outdoor Meal Site (OMS). One quarter of the 460,000 meals we serve each year, are served at the OMS. The benefits of the OMS include a centralized location where those who are hungry can find a nutritionally dense, great tasting meal. These meals are served without prerequisite or judgment and are prepared in Health Department Certified kitchens, by people who have food safety in mind. Because of the extreme care taken with the preparation, content, and delivery of the meals served at the OMS contributes to well-being and overall health of the population being served. The OMS is located under the freeway, with the only public toilet open to un-housed individuals in Seattle, a place to wash hands and security present at every meal. This small spot accomplishes big things.

The OMS offers an alternative to meal providers who otherwise would serve in public parks or on the street. Serving in parks can create rodent and other public health issues, as well as creating un-welcoming environments for the general populace and merchants of Seattle. This is a good neighbor collaboration with local businesses, law enforcement, and the parks department.

On top of the 100,000 meals OSL serves at the OMS every year, logistically, our management duty to the OMS includes provider scheduling, cleaning, phone calls and staffing. We purchase equipment, make sure the porta-potty is clean, and stand up for those in need and the providers who serve those needs. One other important facet of the OMS management is a decade long attempt to engage providers who continue to serve in Seattle’s parks, creating a public nuisance and health detriment. We reconnoiter, educate, and offer our expertise and resources to encourage migration into the OMS. (If you would like to know about many of the complications facing outdoor meal providers, please see:

In August of 2012, I was charged to take my shift in City Hall and Occidental parks, awaiting the arrival of meal providers who had served in the park several weeks in a row. I had two one hour shifts, and here is my writing from that day:

Here I am, sitting in the sun in the middle of pioneer-square, surrounded by the people who I know we serve at the OMS, but there is no one serving food. There is evangelization. I have been sitting quietly so I don’t disturb a gentleman who is doing his best to sleep on this gorgeous Sunday morning. I was able to take a ride with the park rangers, and I have spoken with an un-housed gentleman about his amazing new pairs of socks which he got yesterday from a hygiene center. He was thrilled about them.

My purpose today may go unmet; I have not seen a single rogue meal provider, but still I did do good things, including an educational conversation with the park rangers. It seems as though they had no idea where and when we serve at the OMS. They don’t know they are to tell meal providers that there are other options and to contact OSL or these options.

I am degrading now, into aimless, stream of consciousness writing, spewing out my observations, in attempt to remember what to ask my far more experienced coworkers.

I don’t know what it means to sleep on cobblestone. What the protocol is if one finds abandon cardboard, which is used to cushion the body from the hardness or coldness of the ground and or the wetness of the grass…If someone walks away from it, is fair game? I could use that cardboard right about now. Would I have an even stronger hatred of seagulls were I to share a home with them? Or would some sort of respect be established? Do these trees provide any protection from the rain? Does one simply learn to sleep through the 2 am last call here, when all the bars close and hundreds of people just flow out into their bedrooms? Why is that guy peeing on the outside? Why, dear God, do we have so many houses without people and people without houses? What I do is so insignificant; however, it is so very important that I do it . . .

The writing ends there, but that was because I was busy for the rest of my shift.  A Bible Study youth group unloaded a BBQ and started cooking in the middle of Occidental Park. I approached them and was met with a bit of hesitancy at first, but once I explained who I was, they were much more receptive. The lead gentleman informed me that they only serve once every few months, and he seemed certain they would prefer to serve in the parks than at the OMS because that’s “where the people are”. I talked to him about him about their garbage and waste, the bathroom and hand washing stations. I explained that OSL could accommodate them in our kitchen, help provide meal ingredients, and provide security, if they would consider moving into the OMS. He took our flyer, and said he would take it to their leadership.

My objective for that moment was met, but not as expected. These weren’t the providers that were expected to show, but they were meal providers.

OSL is a multi-faceted organization. We fulfill our mission in variety of ways, through meals, through collaboration, through education, and through opportunities of service. We often don’t know, day to day, or year to year, how we can best serve our community. In the end we know, that in whatever form it takes, we are only serving love.


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