Back in the mid-1980s, entrepreneur Pat Woods was quite the multitasker.
She worked on the assembly line for Chrysler and had launched Star 7 Employment Services, a business that specialized in recruiting, training, and job placement. It was during this time that she secured a contract with Monsanto to find local workers to hire in the plants. Woods, a longtime resident of north city neighborhood College Hill, knew just where to go – her neighborhood.
“I originally bought this so that I could create the training for the employees. I wanted to groom them – I wanted them to know what was expected,” she says. “ A lot of them are good people – a lot of them have some troubles in their past and a lot of employers are not willing to take the chance. I would talk to the employers and let them know that I had good people.”
In 1989 she bought a three-story building which sits near the Grand Avenue Watertower. She planned to renovate the space as a teaching and training center, but didn’t act on it for another two decades.
The 57-year-old still wants to tap into the fertile environment that is North St. Louis and act out her plan to provide advice and job assistance for those in need. But first, she’s going to explore a different direction – a restaurant, called Fresno’s Diner.
The eatery will be open for breakfast and lunch, serve American food, and will feature bench, bar and booth seating. She has invested her own money and secured volunteers and funding from a few churches to get the construction going. In a neighborhood dotted with convenience stores and takeout places, Fresno’s will be more than just a fresh face. She got the name from a city in northern California, where “… they always talk about these trees that mysteriously grew around the Fresno River. So that means to flourish and to do well.”
“We’re sitting 197 feet from that water tower out there," Woods said. "So we’re trying to be a beacon of hope.”
Woods has seen the crime and devastation that has come through the area, and wants to give neighbors and friends an alcohol-free venue – along with an office on the first floor to service patrons’ personal and business needs. “… it will be a place where I would be able to fax documents for them or receive documents for them,” she says of the office, which sits across from the kitchen. “It would be a place where I could notarize forms for them if they need them notarized. I want mothers to be able to bring their kids in and have a hot dog, and sit there and talk to their kids and they don’t have to take their food and try to go across the vacant lot.”
If the product of hope will be served downstairs, the percolation of it will take place upstairs, where she and a minister are planning to create a separate teaching space with computers to help people find jobs and figure out how to make their own success.
“People can’t find a job if they don’t know how to look for the job,” she says. “By allowing the applicant the opportunity to become his own employer, he then turns around and hires people from the neighborhood, and those people become employed.”
Woods is hopeful that by bringing the mountain to Mohammad in the 21st century, her space can fill a multitude of needs - people can have a place to eat, conduct business, and take their lives to the next level.
Her goals might seem lofty and Woods knows that one space won’t turn everything around overnight, but it’s a start, says woods. “Step by step we can make a transition in the community. If you’re willing to pick up the anchor and START – then good things can happen.”
Woods is projecting that the diner will open in December.