At Lydia’s Ladle, the social-enterprise kitchen from Lydia’s House, a St. Louis nonprofit, victims of domestic violence are able to gain useful job skills and build their résumés while working in a positive environment built around flexible schedules. Lydia’s House executive director Karen T. Kirk launched Lydia’s Ladle in 2013 with help from volunteers and donors. After acclaimed chef Lou Rook III of Annie’s Gunn in Chesterfield, Missouri, won their chicken pot pie contest, Kirk worked with Tony’s pastry chef Helen Fletcher to develop a version of the recipe for Lydia’s Ladle. The frozen pie is available in the St. Louis area at Dierberg’s and Straub’s stores as well as City Greens Market and Annie Gunn’s Smokehouse Market. Proceeds help Lydia’s House provide transitional housing and resources such as education, employment support, day care and more to women and children escaping domestic violence.

Why did you want to start a social-enterprise kitchen at Lydia’s House? After I was hired as executive director, I noticed that women with children had the hardest time trying to find employment around their children’s school schedules. I thought, this is perfect for our women who have children, because what I can do is develop operating hours around making chicken pot pies in our kitchen, selling those to employ our women and to start building their self-esteem, self-confidence, résumés and skills so they can get back out into the workplace after being a victim of domestic violence. Mothers can stay at home with their children in the morning, feed them breakfast, get them to school, then come to work. And we have those women back home to get their children off the bus.

Why chicken pot pies? [Local farmer Ben Roberts] wanted to give us vegetables from his garden and free-range eggs from his chickens to help meet the needs of the women and children who we house here. It’s like, ‘OK, what do we have at our disposal?’ We sat down and talked, and [Roberts] mentioned chicken pot pie. We knew we could get a lot of the ingredients in at no cost, and who doesn’t love a good chicken pot pie in the winter?

What’s the customer response been like so far? We were actually kind of overwhelmed with the response. We’ve grown; we’ve moved into our own kitchen from a shared-use kitchen at Saint Louis University, because we needed more space. We developed another pie called the Very Berry Pie, and it’s absolutely delicious, with a cream cheese crust. So we’re developing other products to help with that off-season. We’re looking at the future of being able to produce more.

How have the women at Lydia’s House responded to the program? I think probably the most important piece of this project is what happens when there’s domestic violence. It’s all about power and control, and most of the time you lose all of your self-esteem and self-confidence when you’re going through physical, psychological, emotional or financial abuse. What we’ve found with this employment, being able to go back to work really helps bring that self-confidence back, and being able to go out and work in restaurants – it’s very important. They go in already certified and knowing the skills, so it helps them go after a better income.