Former addicts using their passion to help others after it helped them beat addiction

Published: March 10, 2022 9:43 PM EST
Updated: March 10, 2022 10:36 PM EST

It’s a place to grab a great meal and give back to the community simultaneously. Lulu’s Kitchen in East Naples provides culinary training, giving those recovering from addiction a recipe to succeed.

“I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” said Victor Rodriguez, Program Chef at Lulu’s Kitchen. A passion turned into purpose. “I am three years and four months clean,” said Ryan Schank, Sous Chef at Lule’s Kitchen.

Victor Rodriguez and Ryan Schank met at Justin’s Place. It’s an arm of St. Matthew’s House and a place to heal from addiction.

There, the two formed a brotherly love. Their running joke, one day, they would run Lulu’s Kitchen. “Here in this kitchen, we are all about healing,” said Schank.

Three and a half years ago, they were addicted to opioids. “I was using for over 15-20 years of my life,” said Rodriguez.

Now, Rodriguez uses the skills he learned from Lulu’s Culinary Institute. “We teach you the basics of dressing, sauce making, how to work at a restaurant, how to meal plan, how to price out a menu, how to receive orders,” said Schank.

The 16-week program equips residents in recovery with new skills. At Lulu’s, you learn the knowledge and skills needed to work in any kitchen. A recipe to achieve and overcome. “They showed me there was a better way, as the recipe, a little bit of this, a little bit of love and some structure. Part of the recipe, little by little, yeah, it got me to the point where I was able to succeed,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez and Schank’s running joke is now a reality, thanks to Lulu’s. “This is what turned us into the men you see in front of you today. A Sous Chef, a Program Chef,” said Rodriguez.

Every penny spent at Lulu’s Kitchen goes toward St. Matthew’s House programs.

Lulu’s Kitchen at 2125 Airport-Pulling Rd S, Naples, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.