Foodie Events / Restaurants

Houston’s Belong Kitchen Attracts Top Chefs, Gives Adults With Disabilities a Special Work Place of Their Own

This Is No Ordinary Grab-and-Go Kitchen

BY // 05.08.24
photography Marlo Wise

Everyone should have a community, a place to be, a place to go, a place to work, a place where they feel like they truly belong. Thanks to Kim Brown, many adults in West Houston and beyond with developmental and intellectual disabilities (IDD) have found that place in Belong Kitchen, a grab-and-go meal prep spot located in Memorial City.

Founded by Brown as a 501c3 organization to provide dignified paid employment for individuals like her daughter Ellie, Belong Kitchen serves a workplace home for people who might have struggled to find a meaningful job. Now those individuals have an opportunity to not only work with new friends and colleagues in a professional kitchen, but also to cook alongside some of Houston’s most notable chefs.

“Belong is really a story about a community coming together to provide a safe, nurturing place for our special employees to work and grow together while learning to make food that our customers can enjoy and can feel good about supporting,” Kim Brown tells PaperCity. “We were so fortunate to find a landlord that understood the need for Belong in our community. And we’ve been blessed beyond measure to have some of Houston’s best restaurant minds work with us to design, furnish and cultivate our kitchen.”

With more than 75 volunteers who work alongside its talented employees, Belong Kitchen created a guest chef program as an extension of that community support. This has some of the Bayou City’s best chefs lending their time and expertise to teach Belong Kitchen’s employees some of their restaurants’ signature dishes. The program kicked off with Tony’s executive chef Kate McLean and through the last several months has featured chefs such as Jonathan Levine of Jonathan’s the Rub, Raffi Nasr of Craft Pita, Aaron Bludorn of Bludorn and Navy Blue, along with Bludorn’s colleague executive chef Alexandra Pena, who mans the range at the new restaurant Bar Bludorn.

Johnny Carrabba even stopped by to teach the Belong Kitchen sous chefs how to prepare pasta and salad Carrabba’s style.

Belong Kitchen (Photo by Marlo Wise)
Thanks to Kim Brown, many adults in West Houston and beyond with developmental and intellectual disabilities (IDD) have found that place they belong — Belong Kitchen. (Photo by Marlo Wise)

During the month of May, you can indulge in some of the meals Creole chef José Arévalo and his wife Lily from Brennan’s of Houston taught their eager student chefs to recreate. Arévalo, a 40-year-veteran of Brennan’s (the longest-running employee there), took advantage of crawfish season and shared his recipe for Brennan’s crawfish enchiladas stuffed with crawfish tail meat, cheese and, peppers and topped with his signature tomatillo salsa.

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“I was touched by the Belong employees’ hospitality and generosity, how they welcomed our team into their kitchen and treated us like family,” Arévalo says. “I was most impressed with how well the group followed instructions and quickly learned the Brennan‘s recipes we shared with them.”

Brennan’s owner Alex Brennan Martin notes: “My wife, Robin, happened upon an article about Belong Kitchen some time ago and shared it with us. The restaurant is often approached with charitable opportunities. And, frankly, it can be overwhelming with so many good causes. But seeing the smiles of the Belong team and hearing the passion Kim has for these young people made it a no-brainer.

“Our chef team loves working with young people who want to learn in the restaurant. It’s one of our great joys. And getting to do it with the Belong team just makes us smile as well.”

Belong Kitchen (Photo by Marlo Wise)
Some of the talented team works with Brennan’s chef José Arévalo at Belong Kitchen. (Photo by Marlo Wise)

You can pick up a family-style meal of Arévalo’s enchiladas that feeds four to six people for $55 Wednesdays during Belong Kitchen’s shop hours, which start at 8 am and run until everything sells out. (And we’re told dishes from the chef series usually do sell out.)

In addition to the chef meals, you can swing in and grab a hot lunch like a grilled chicken sandwich, a Belong bacon burger, or a Cantina bowl from 11 am to 1:30 pm Mondays through Fridays. Go here to find out more about the changing daily family-style meals you can bring home like Nonna’s rigatoni and a Margherita Pizza Tart. Or with 48 hours’ notice, let them cater and deliver to your next event everything from charcuterie boards to box lunches, breakfast treats and decadent desserts.

Belong Kitchen is located at Village Towers Plaza, 9655 Katy Freeway, Suite 3105.

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