Hometown Heroes: Chef Ben D'Azzo at Trinity Cafe

Jennifer Epstein reports

- Fresh food, live music, and a top Tampa chef in the kitchen— it doesn't sound like a place that feeds the homeless, but it's exactly what's being served up at Trinity Cafe.

"Friday we served macadamia encrusted tilapia and today we're doing a fresh pasta bowl and eggs." said Chef Ben D'Azzo

Chef Ben doesn't have a big budget. Each meal can't cost more than $2.50. But, he makes it happen and is proud of the work he does and the people he serves.

"Our guests are a lot of the people that when you walk down the street you go to the other side of the street; or you turn your head when you see them at a stop sign you turn your head," explained Chef Ben.

But Chef Ben doesn't ignore them; instead he calls them his customers, his colleagues and his friends.

Chef Ben made a pretty big life change six months ago when he left his job at the Straz Center to be head Chef at Trinity Café.

"It's more satisfying than anything I've ever done," said Chef Ben.

He knows that some people think he's crazy, going from serving high-dollar meals to feeding the homeless, but he says he's finally living his dream of helping others.  

"I'm just kind of the caretaker for what these guys are doing. I'm giving them a little more focus, showing them what their potential is, helping them find a second job, helping them find an apartment. We are doing so much more than providing a meal" said Chef Ben.

He's giving them the respect they deserve and the kind of meal that they crave.

"We try to give them the same restaurant experience they would get anywhere," said Chef Ben.

And it turns out even though he's no longer head chef at some fancy downtown restaurant Chef Ben is still a pretty big deal.

"At 4:30 the other morning one of the streetwalkers saw me at the light and was like, 'hey chef how ya doing, what’s for breakfast today' so that was lots of fun," said Chef Ben.

And he'd prefer that kind of genuine appreciation over a big paycheck any day.

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