Meet Michael Owens
Each one of our team members plays an important role in helping us to feed more people in need. One person we feel especially grateful for is Michael Owens. You could say we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. He’s helping us put out about 27,000 meals a week, and he’s celebrating his 10-year anniversary with Bracken’s Kitchen on Friday, June 10, 2022.
Michael started out at The Kitchen on the founding board of directors back in 2013,
stepped away for a few years, and rejoined as an employee in 2019 as Director of Food Services.
Michael has an impressive background as a five-star hotel pastry chef and has transitioned seamlessly into overseeing Bracken’s food services.
Michael grew up “in the middle of nowhere, at Ridgecrest in the Mojave Desert.” He’s an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, where he studied baking and pastry and culinary in 1992. He then went to work at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena for seven plus years. In 1998, he left to start working at the Peninsula Hotel Beverly Hills with Bill Bracken as Executive Chef. In 2005, he went to the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, along with Bill, and then he left in 2012 to run a gourmet ice cream company called Florentino Ice Cream.
He still likes to dabble in baking and pastry, although he’s a bit burnt out from all of his years in hospitality. “I still have fun when I do it,” Michael said. Longtime kitchen supporters might remember his famous warm sticky toffee pudding often available during the holidays.
Michael’s decision to go to culinary school was born from the idea that he didn’t know what else to do. He describes himself as having a learning disability that makes it very difficult to learn if there are any distractions when he’s reading: noises, a car going by, the radio, and people talking. If he is reading something, he has to start all over.
“I am a hands-on learner. It is easier for me to learn when I can use my hands, than with a textbook and studying,” Michael said. “I come from a very small town, and I knew that a traditional lecture hall college experience would never work for me. I never would have made it. Comprehension is my struggle.”
At The Kitchen his duties have expanded with the recent growth. “I manage all food coming in, and all food going out, and yet since we are a small nonprofit, we all wear many hats,” Michael said. “I might be climbing up on the roof one day fixing something, cleaning windows, picking up trash, we have to do it all.”
The most rewarding aspect of his job? “Being out on the food truck and being face to face with those in need. You get to see the kids and their parents, and they are just so grateful to have a meal. Being face to face with those in need takes the cake on all of it,” Michael said.
In 2020, everything changed due to COVID and we weren’t allowed to feed people in person. It was a hard time for everyone. “During the pandemic, we were just trying to survive like everyone else, and feed as many people as we could. And then we realized that what was really missing was the interactions with those we feed, so as soon as we could, we got the food truck back out there,” Michael said. “Sometimes you can get so busy with the day-to-day operations, that it’s easy to lose focus of why we do what we do. Meeting the kids and their parents is just a humbling reminder of why we do what we do.”
Favorite Bracken’s meals? “I love the sweet and sour chicken, lasagna, and I am a California burger guy, so any time we have burgers, I love that,” Michael said.
Wondering where we get our food? “We take donations from everywhere. Anyone who wants to drop off food here, can. For example, today, we had five pallets arrive from Second Harvest Food Bank and three pallets from The OC Food Bank. We also have places that have manufacturing overrun, so they’ll come and drop that off,”
“We have a little bit of grocery rescue. We have an organization that picks up Amazon rescue and they bring us what they can’t use. Food comes in from as many places as we possibly can get it donated.”
The Kitchen is often adding new partnerships. “Most recently, we will start staffing and serving food in a satellite kitchen called Airway, by John Wayne Airport. It’s a shelter called the Bridge Shelter that the city of Costa Mesa runs. We have so many exciting things in the works,” Michael said. “We’re looking forward to the growth that is coming ahead, the Hungry Games 5.0 event coming up on September 8, and the Culinary Training Program. We have much to look forward to.”
We are so grateful for all that Michael does for those we serve. His commitment to helping to provide high-quality foods and stepping in to help out as needed is something we never take for granted.