The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

The Delancey Street Foundation Tale

West Magazine put it well: "A bank robber is broiling chickens. A jewel thief is refilling the water glasses. A waiter is talking about his time in San Quentin . . . Delancey Street might look like every other successful restaurant . . .but the menu here comes second to the mission: providing felons with a solid first step on the straight-and-narrow."

The restaurant, part of a headquarters complex on San Francisco's waterfront, is just one of a dozen enterprises run by the Delancey Street Foundation. Housing 500 souls who operate the place, the complex is essentially a kibbutz for former addicts, prostitutes, ex-cons and others who have hit bottom in life.

Mimi Silbert, president and CEO of the Delancey Street Foundation.
The much-admired, four-story development itself, for example, was built by residents of the commune, providing "300 formerly unemployable drug addicts, homeless people, and ex-felons . . . every skill in the building trades . . . as well as training in purchasing, contracting, computer and accounting services," as the group's website puts it.

Perhaps the best-known Delancey Street enterprise is its moving and trucking business - the largest independent one in the Bay Area - but the residents also manage a café, book shop and art gallery, a digital print shop, a catering business, corporate care services, van services for the handicapped and elderly, Christmas tree lots and other ventures.

All this - and the four other Delancey locations in New York, New Mexico, Los Angeles and Greensboro, N.C. - is the brainchild of president and CEO Mimi Silbert, who grew up on New York's Lower East Side in an immigrant family that was proud of Israel and its kibbutzim. So she essentially used the kibbutz model (residents must stay at least 2 years), providing room, board, clothing, education, jobs and communal decision-making. She took the name of the famous Lower East Side street and adopted a motto that says: "Enter With a History, Leave With a Future."

Mimi Silbert, Delancey Street President and CEO, with her dog Amnesty, rescued by her, like others at the residential education center.

Delancey Street's 370,000-square-foot, mixed-use headquarters on the San Francisco waterfront, built mainly by former felons, addicts and the homeless.

The Delancey Street restaurant.

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