Photo by Paul Neevel.

Happening People

Jim Evangelista and Catherine Pickup (revisited)

December 2015: In the 1980s, University of Florida student Jim Evangelista and his roommates had a sign that read, “Welcome to Reality Kitchen.” Later, when he started painting murals, Evangelista adopted the name for his Gainesville storefront studio, and Reality Kitchen became a 24/7 coffee house and community center. He got married, had a son, Diego, and, in 1992, took a cross-country trip in a converted school bus. “We wound up in Eugene on the last day of the Country Fair,” he says. “We knew we had to live here.” Though his marriage ended, Evangelista got mural commissions and went back to school for a BFA in visual design, then a master’s in special ed. He worked for the Lane Education Service District in Cottage Grove, then came to Eugene to work with students aged 19 to 21 in a Transition Program classroom. “That’s where I met Catherine,” he says. Catherine Pickup studied special ed in Vancouver, B.C., before moving to Eugene. She and Evangelista left the Transition Program in 2010 to launch Reality Kitchen, a nonprofit bakery and café that provides an integrated workplace setting for young adults with disabilities. “We offer competitive wage employment,” he says, “with people of all abilities working side-by-side.” Located at 645 River Road,  Reality Kitchen supplies bread and pastries to local restaurants.

2024 update: In March of 2020, COVID restrictions forced Reality Kitchen to temporarily close its café and bakery. “It gave us an opportunity to focus on our employment path program,” Evangelista explains. Before the pandemic, participants received training only while on the job. Now they get six full weeks of training, alternating days in a classroom with days on the job. They learn about food safety, barista and food prep skills, interpersonal communication, customer service and cash handling. “We partnered with Lane and Douglas counties and wrote grants to fund this pilot program,” he continues, “and we’ve developed our front patio area to provide outdoor seating.” Future plans include expansion into adjacent rental space for an additional classroom plus a neighborhood general store that will feature local food, beverages, and household products. Now that COVID has eased, Reality Kitchen is once again supporting 15 staff workers and is open to the public two days a week, Thursday and Friday, from 10 am to 6 pm. Learn more at Know a Happening Person? Email or call 541-484-0519.