Bryan Jacobs founded Vets 2 Success to trains veterans for careers in the culinary, baking and hydroponic gardening fields.
Food is more than food. It’s a powerful tool for change.
That’s the message of Bryan Jacobs, president and founder of Vets 2 Success, a Sarasota-based nonprofit helping veterans who are at-risk, displaced and homeless. The organization trains veterans for careers in the culinary, baking and hydroponic gardening fields.
The nonprofit was born out of a traumatic event. Jacobs, a veteran who served two tours in Iraq, lost his brother to veteran suicide, he tells Coffee Talk. He then wanted to help veterans find another passion post-military, like the outlet he’s found in the culinary world.
When he considered starting a nonprofit to teach vets culinary skills, he questioned the concept of a nonprofit, wondering how it could be sustained. “I was completely wrong,” Jacobs says. “A nonprofit is a business, and to be successful with a nonprofit, you have to run it like a business. I have to procure relationships and sell products.”
The training program is based on the military and what Jacobs says the military does well: provide structure, measure achievement, set people up in jobs and establish a desirable and reachable end goal. He knew veterans understood that system, so Jacobs aimed to recreate those elements in Vets 2 Success.
The first week of the 12-week program teaches vets how to be safe, smart and respectful in the kitchen — and how to use kitchen jargon and phrases like “yes, chef” and “no, chef.” Then vets are placed in jobs and start learning skills. Jacobs says they’re also learning how to exist again and how to have another purpose in life.
The organization is based at Sweetgrass Farms in Sarasota. Vets 2 Success leases and works the land. The products grown, from strawberries to tomatoes, are sold and help sustain the nonprofit. Classes, meanwhile, are taught at the Culinary Innovation Lab in Lakewood Ranch, part of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Vets 2 Success has also been involved in creating craft brews, including beer served at Oak & Stone in Sarasota. The beer uses strawberries grown on the farm and represents an ongoing partnership with the restaurant chain.
So far 44 veterans in Sarasota and Manatee counties have gone through the program. It’s launching in Tampa as well. Jacobs also has plans to move into the restaurant scene and wants the first restaurant to be in Sarasota. “People are buying change and impact through food,” he says. “They can see their money making a difference.”