offer job training through inner-city pizzeria
Cincinnati Business Courier - July 14, 2006
by Lucy May
Senior Staff Reporter
It's not just that the people who come to Power Inspires Progress
have had a hard time holding jobs.
Sister Barbara Wheeler, left, and Sister Judy Tensing are
moving their renamed pizzeria, Venice on Vine, to Over-the-Rhine.
Many have limited reading and math skills. Others don't see the
importance of showing up on time -- or even on the days they're
scheduled. Still others are felons who have meetings with parole
officers and court appearances that demand their time.
All that would seem to make it nearly impossible to run a small
But that's exactly what Sister Barbara Wheeler and Sister Judy
Tensing intend to do at 1301 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine, the new
location for the Venice Pizza restaurant they founded 16 years
ago as part of their Power Inspires Progress mission.
Renamed Venice on Vine, the pizza place will double as a job
training program for inner-city residents struggling to work.
It's one of two businesses operated by Power Inspires Progress,
or PIP, the nonprofit job training agency started by the two nuns.
West End Catering, established in 1986, also will move to the
1,400-square-foot Vine Street location.
"This is giving us a chance to pull in our reins and see
what we actually can do," said Tensing, a Sister of Notre
Dame de Namur.
The two businesses train 12 to 15 people each year. Some move
on to other jobs -- one was even hired by Comair last year. But
others end up back at PIP or without steady jobs, said Wheeler,
a Dominican Sister of Hope.
Tensing and Wheeler expect the new Over-the-Rhine location will
draw more trainees from the neighborhood. They know it won't be
easy. The street can still be rough; Wheeler saw three drug deals
go down just the other day.
But their faith extends to the people they serve.
"If you believe in a person, they do all kinds of things
for you," Tensing said. "And you have unbelievable results."
For years, Venice Pizza was located in University Heights. But
the nuns were evicted a couple years ago after Wheeler balked
and refused to pay the higher rent that new owners wanted to charge.
PIP launched a search for a new home and found the space on Vine
"The big challenge is going to be to take this to the next
level of really trying to make, if not a profit, some substantial
income from the restaurant and the catering business," said
Tony Castelli, an attorney and PIP board member. "The catering
business does fairly well, but the restaurant was more just training
people and selling some pizzas."
Sister Monica McGloin, president of the PIP board, thinks the
new store will mean more foot traffic. That would help the agency
raise money toward its goal of hiring a paid executive director
and give the trainees more real-world experience, she said.
Venice on Vine, after all, will benefit from a more residential
location and snazzier digs.
Architecture students from the University of Cincinnati and Miami
University helped design the place, and businesses have donated
time and materials. Funch Lumber Co. donated wood for the training
area floors. Singer Contract Group donated commercial-grade vinyl
wall covering that was installed for free by Miami Valley Paperhanging
and Ron Klei. Students designed the Venice sign inside the restaurant
out of aluminum cans and beer bottles.
So far, PIP has raised about $253,000 to pay for the renovations
and needs about $40,000 more. The agency hopes to open Venice
on Vine at the end of this month, depending on how fast the work
As always, Wheeler and Tensing have faith. They believe in their
work and the people they serve. And if only they could get the
word out a bit more, they think even more businesses would believe
in them, too.