Tom Butcher can’t go to the grocery store without running into at least a few of his former customers.
They remember his face from behind the counter at Impressions, his Tulsa restaurant that operated for more than 30 years at two different locations, the first near 15th Street and Lewis Avenue until 1998 and downtown near Fifth and Main streets (there was a short-lived pizza restaurant in between).
In recent years, a battle with a rare cancer called chordoma nearly robbed him of his life, but it also took a chunk of his spine. He had to re-learn how to walk. A subsequent embolism later affected his memory.
Former customers’ names often escape him, but he often recognizes their faces by their regular orders: prime rib sandwich, peanut butter pie, super spud, chicken Caesar salad …
He’s faced a long battle to get his health back since Impressions closed in 2011, but is finally feeling well enough to take on a new project: opening the Take 2: A Resonance Cafe in December, a restaurant project for Resonance Tulsa that aims to give women job skills as they transition away from prison life.
It’s a variation on a concept that Butcher, 65, has wanted to do for some time: Cooking that gives back and teaches life and job skills. He’d originally thought about doing something similar for veterans or Tulsa’s homeless population, but when Resonance approached him about Take 2, he said he knew it was the right project.
Originally though, he thought they had the wrong concept: A food truck. Butcher didn’t think that was a great idea considering the challenges for formerly incarcerated women of getting to work every day and finding an affordable, safe place to live.
Oklahoma has the highest per capita rate of incarceration for women in the United States, and more than 1,200 women are released from prison each year in the state. Many of them struggle with finding a job or a safe place to live after prison.
Take 2 attempts to solve this by giving the women jobs and a place to live; the workers will live in chaperoned housing right above the restaurant (they’re taking donations for the apartment through a registry on Target.com). It’s an extension of Resonance’s reentry program, which focuses on helping women transition from prison to productive lives.
Resonance Tulsa’s overall mission is to promote and support the well-being and self-sufficiency of women and their families challenged by the criminal justice system. It’s a mission dear to Butcher’s heart.
The women working at Take 2 will learn more than just cooking, Butcher said.
“What they will learn is not primarily kitchen work, or restaurant work,” he said. “What they will learn is that they are important in this society, in this world, in this city.”
Resonance was excited to get Butcher on board to manage Take 2, said executive director Deidra Kirtley.
“Tom’s restaurant experience is invaluable to us as we begin this new venture. The community knows him for his great food, customer service and work ethic; obviously, there is no better role model for our Take 2 employees,” Kirtley said.
When The Frontier sat down with Butcher to talk about his new mission as manager and chef at Take 2, we asked him to share a classic recipe from Impressions.
He opted to make his beloved Caesar salad, though with a twist health nuts may appreciate: He substituted Vegenaise for mayonnaise, which he does a lot at home. (Butcher and his wife follow a pescetarian diet).
His most important tips: Use lots of fresh garlic, hand-tear and really dry off your romaine lettuce and make homemade croutons if you can.
- 1-2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and torn with ribs removed
- Several cloves of garlic, to taste (he uses a whole head, peeled)
- 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- juice of one medium- to large-sized lemon
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons dijon or Creole mustard
- 1 cup mayonnaise (or Vegenaise)
- Variations: Add sliced fresh tomatoes, grilled chicken or salmon
1. Wash and dry romaine lettuce thoroughly. Blend the garlic, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, mustard, mayonnaise and blend thoroughly.
2. Toss desired amount of dressing over lettuce in large bowl, adding more cheese, a handful of croutons and sliced tomatoes. Add grilled chicken or salmon if desired.
Take 2: A Resonance Cafe is slated to open in December when renovations are completed at 309 S. Main St. The restaurant will start with a daily lunch menu operating from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and possibly add breakfast and catering in the future.