Passion for Cooking Leads Man to Redemption
By: David Yarmuth
Adapted from “Stories of Hope,” blog of the Louisville, Kentucky, Command, Oct. 10, 2017.
Allen Newcomb always had a passion for cooking, learning recipes and techniques from family members growing up in Louisville’s West End.
“Scrambled eggs with ranch dressing and parsley, that’s the very first thing I learned to make, mainly because I loved eggs. That’s where it all started for me.” Over time, Newcomb was cooking for family and friends, essentially running a business right out of his own place.
“I’d make $400-$500 before 9 a.m., working six hours. I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” But Newcomb’s entrepreneurial spirit could never really take flight because while he had one foot in the kitchen, the other was still in the streets running with friends and skirting the law.
By the time he reached his late 20s he’d fathered 12 children by five different women, which made it extremely difficult to adequately provide for them. Newcomb got a break in 2013 when a friend told him about The Salvation Army’s Culinary Arts Program. He saw his chance, he said, to finally dedicate himself to his craft.
“I convinced my wife to take the class with me, and that helped us bond together and commit to starting our business together.” Part of the 10-week intensive course included a trip to Sullivan University’s Culinary School, an important partner for The Salvation Army’s program. “Once I saw the inside of those kitchens and spoke with professional chefs, I knew this was where I was going to be at some point.”
That chance would finally come not long after graduating from The Salvation Army’s program when Newcomb was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Sullivan, an award granted every 18 months to an outstanding graduate.
“I melted, I was so incredibly excited,” he said. “By the third week it finally hit me that I was a college student and that I had a tremendous responsibility not only to my children but also myself. I knew there was no turning back.”
The two and a half years Newcomb spent working on his degree were some of the hardest he’d ever experienced.
“It made earning money pretty hard because it kept me from making and selling food downtown during the lunch hour, money I needed to provide for my family.” But Newcomb persevered, finally earning his degree in December 2016 at the age of 43.
“I don’t cry easily, but I couldn’t hold (the tears) back at graduation. It finally hit me what I’d actually accomplished and what I’d been through to get to that point; I was happy with God, and it was by far my proudest moment.”
Newcomb’s plans include opening a restaurant in his neighborhood, something he’d promised his grandmother so many years ago, in addition to getting his food truck business off the ground. But his experience has led him to even greater ambitions.
“I’m going to help mold other young men and women into becoming chefs and helping them follow their dreams, just like others did for me, especially The Salvation Army.”