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A year ago, photographer Sam Hodgson and I headed out for a ride-along in a mobile version of the Chicken Shack, a favorite fried chicken restaurant in southeast San Diego. The restaurant-on-wheels shows up at construction sites and community events to serve up portions of fried chicken, gizzards and catfish.

Last year, we headed out with Darryl Charles, Sr., and his business partner Travis Stocking, along with workers Darryl Charles, Jr., Marcus Dunlap and James Calloway for a day of chicken making and serving. It’s more than a restaurant, we learned as we featured the people behind the Chicken Shack for the People at Work series last October:

Darryl Charles, Sr., dreamt up the restaurant and its mobile version. He employs kids he knows through his sons; others are referred. That leaves room for tension — gang-related tension. In these neighborhoods, kids naturally progress from Little League to Pop Warner to gang-banging, Charles says. …

But they work next to each other, serve and cook food together. As they fit into Charles’ dream, they start to dream for themselves. They say they’ve felt some constraints growing up here, some limits to what people think they can do. But they’re starting to dream without apology.

I caught up with Darryl Charles, Sr, on the phone a few minutes ago for an update. “Everybody’s doing all right,” he said. “A bunch of them are off doing their own thing.”

Calloway’s doing construction now, he said. Dunlap was an aspiring rapper when we met him last year; now he’s going to City College. And his son has gone into music, performing rap around town.

Charles said he opened a satellite restaurant in Arizona about three months ago. He’s hoping to set up an exchange program that would send some of his employees to that state for a year to work, and bring young people from there to San Diego.

“My idea is take the ones from here out of their element,” he said. “You can never stop doing what you’re doing if you stay where you’ve always been. So we’ll take them to a whole new place and put them to work.”

The Arizona restaurant is facing some challenges taking off, he said.

“We haven’t got to the truck part yet; we have to put together the money and all of that,” he said. “Times are so hard right now.”

Last October, I told you Charles’ work with youth in southeast San Diego was getting him recognized all over the place. He was named to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anti-gang advisory committee for CalGRIP, the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program.

I asked him today how the committee’s going. He said it seems to be a low priority in light of budget issues at the state level.

“It’s a lot of ‘Yeah, we made a new committee to do something,’” he said, “but you know, I don’t know, there’s nothing really going on. Unless you’re out in the streets and seeing what’s going on, it’s not really affecting you.”

Read the story about the Chicken Shack here and my accounts of running into Charles at the Q during last year’s wildfires here and here.

And, if you’ve missed any of the 26 installments in the series about how San Diegans earn a living, check out the People at Work archives.

KELLY BENNETT

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