Arlington eatery nurtures teens — and their job skills

ARLINGTON — Joel Poppe-­Voges doubts McDonald’s would have hired him.

So many adults are out of work these days, the competition is pretty stiff at chain restaurants where the odds don’t often favor 15-year-olds with tall blue mohawks.

That’s why Joel is happy to be washing dishes at Three Peas in a Pod in downtown Arlington.

With this new restaurant, owner Yvonne Ito’s goal is to employ young people — especially local foster kids and at-risk teens such as Joel.

“This job keeps me off the streets,” said Joel, who until recently had a lot of problems at home. “I’m clean and sober, and working full time. For once, I feel my parents are proud of me. It’s amazing, dude.”

That’s what Ito likes to hear.

“Our goal is not to make money, but to offer affordable meals to families who will eat here so that we can hire kids and get them skills and job experience,” she said. “These youth are going to be the adults taking care of us one day. Prevention costs the community a lot less than fixing all the problems these kids might have later.”

Ito also is the owner of LKI Family Services, a licensed community mental health clinic, family counseling office and foster care agency in Arlington.

The idea for Three Peas was hatched in brainstorming sessions with friends, family members and employees after some of the foster children Ito managed turned 18 and were on their own with no job experience.

“Due to this economy, it’s very hard for us to help these young people find jobs,” she said.

Arlington chiropractor Scott Peseau stepped forward to offer Ito and her crew an initial break on the lease of the former Little Italy cafe on N. Olympic Avenue.

With an investment of $20,000 from her agency, Ito and her staff opened Three Peas in a Pod on May 1. Joel, a home-schooled student from the Smokey Point neighborhood, was hired on May 2.

By month’s end, another six teens should be working at the restaurant. The goal is to employ about 25 young people at Three Peas and another dozen at the agency’s used bookstore — The Bookshelf at 102 E. Division St.

To get a job, teens must have at least a C average in school, be clean and sober, dress appropriately, and be able to control their language. If they need help achieving any of those requirements, it’s available.

Community support for Ito’s projects has been encouraging so far, she said.

The lunch crowd as been pretty good at the restaurant, and former Arlington shop owner Joan Hicks donated 10,000 books to the used bookstore.

“People are fascinated with our efforts to open the restaurant in this poor economy. Everybody wants to know how we got the money,” Ito said. “It’s been extremely difficult, and we are looking for other funding. Until then, the more business we have, the more kids we can put to work.”

The same line Ito preaches to the teenagers in her care is one she’s lived by while working 15-hour days recently at both of her businesses.

Pride, determination and resilience.

Joel knows this motto.

After washing all the dishes used in preparing and serving 150 lunches of soups, salads, sandwiches and slices of homemade pie, the teen was pleased to sit down to a meal with his family Friday evening at Three Peas.

“I am a responsible employee, and I work my butt off,” he said. “Nobody ever expected that. This is the best place.”

His mother, Pam Poppe-Voges, agrees.

“I’m really excited for Joel,” she said. “He feels good about himself, and that really helps our whole family.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427,

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