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Lodger - Food, Books & Community

Where else can a teen learn to design a portable kitchen, create a tablescape and host a dinner event all while engaging with the local community? Leon Johnson, an educator, artist and chef is making all of this possible for three students from the Newburgh Free Academy.

Johnson was asked to speak to students from the Free Academy about his local business, LODGER, located at 188 Liberty Street in Newburgh. “LODGER is not a restaurant but an emergent event space with broad community engagement,” explained Johnson. After his lecture, Johnson invited the students to sign up if they were intrigued with the idea of blending food and community. Together, the Academy and Johnson whittled down the 30 interested scholars to a lucky three. The Thursday classes began in September and will run through May. The internship will culminate in a project where the students fully design and implement a community dinner. The workshop will include a curriculum-based learning kitchen and total operation of a pop-up restaurant.

Some of the culinary classes include knife skills taught by Michael Kelly, chef-owner of the Liberty Street Bistro in Newburgh. The students toured Guy Jones’ Blooming Hill Farm in Monroe and bought potatoes which they prepared in three different recipes using butter, duck fat and peanut oil. There’s also a trip planned to the Marbled Meat Shop in Cold Spring where they will learn how to break down a pig, and the pop-up restaurant’s graduation menu will feature lettuces grown by the students.

The interns arrive at LODGER by bus every Thursday and spend from 10-2 learning a variety of skills. There is recipe testing, flower harvesting and 16th Century bookmaking where the students create and bind their personal journals for note taking. The journals will then be published on LODGER printers. “I want to keep all of the classes playfully casual,” said Johnson. There are discussions planned around food justice where Johnson talks about ecological perils, bees, pesticides and carbon footprints. “I don’t demonize the subject matter. I only want to create awareness,” explained Johnson.

In February, the students will open a Moroccan Soup Bar at LODGER to help fund their graduation pop-up restaurant. The Soup Bar will be open on Thursdays at 11 am. The students will cook between 10-11 and then help serve Moroccan inspired soups and flat breads. “The overall goal of the internship is for students to learn about internship opportunities, community and future careers,” said Johnson. The program recently earned a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation of Newburgh which promotes the city's strengths and acts as a catalyst to encourage more community projects that engage and bring area residents together. Projects which are open to the public and those that forge new collaborations or partnerships are favored. LODGER was evaluated on their community impact, ability to successfully execute, and originality.


Currently, dinner is served at LODGER only on Friday evenings from 7-10. The North African/Moroccan-inspired meal is $25 per guest. Sunday brunch is served from 10-1 and includes house-baked Za’atar Man’oushe bread, Detroit-based Anthology coffee, and seasonal, locally-sourced foods. Saturdays are a wild card. “We welcome educators, artists, authors, farmers and chefs to partner in the play of ideas and the creation of innovative events and convivial gatherings,” said Johnson.

The space was once occupied by a group of self-identified anarchists, but has been magically transformed and is now the testing ground for an original model of community engagement. The room has been painted an intriguing cobalt blue and a long farm table sits in the middle of the space. “The event space helps to conjure up stories. It enthralls and mystifies, because there is a lot of power in sharing stories at a communal table.”

The venue is easily adaptable to host dinner events, readings, films or art shows. There is also a Book and Bread event which includes a three-course locally sourced meal made in handmade dinnerware and bookbinding demonstrations where each guest of the table binds a blank 16th C Monastery Journal using archival papers and Irish linen tapes. “Books have always been in proximity to the dinner table for me. I love that relationship,” said Johnson.

188 Liberty Street

Newburgh, NY (reservations)

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