Adama Foundation and the Lighthouse Peace Initiative

Below is a note from Mahasti’s friend and fellow baker, Jeffrey Hamelman, about his experience working with the Adama Foundation in Uganda. It is a beautiful and powerful telling of his experience teaching Ugandans to bake bread.

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from Uganda, where I spent two weeks with another American baker, Sara Molinaro, training about 20 members of the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement to become bakers. These people have next to nothing, except their hopes and their undiminished innate dignity, and have escaped unspeakable horrors in their native countries. The trainees began with absolutely no baking experience. Seeing their daily skills progress was an immense joy, and when they sold the first breads, on the ninth day of training, it was a time of rejoicing. The genesis for creating this bakery (this is the first of several that are projected to be set up in refugee settlements) came from Ayelet Berman-Cohen of Los Angeles, who established the Adama Foundation to fund them. On the ground in Uganda are two exceptional women who are part of the daily operation: Angella Kushemererwa who oversees the Vibrant Communities Initiative, and Sophie Karungi, who is a counselor to the most at-risk women in the settlement. All three of these women are absolute pillars of strength and commitment.

The trainees walk to and from the bakery, many of them for over an hour each way, several of them with a young child swaddled to her back (75% of the trainees are women). Several times each day, the mothers move away to sit and watch the work as they nurse their baby. There is an outside area adjacent to the mixing room and the room that houses the wood burning oven. This is the main production area, and it is covered by a pole structure with a wattle and tarp covering for the roof. The rainy season has begun, and we occasionally had to move the work benches to avoid the steady drips from the leaky tarp. We got very good at winding our way around children and chickens in this area as we went through the day!

The goals of the bakery are clear: to empower people, mostly women, with skills that will enable them to earn a livelihood; to become a focal point for the community; and to feed the most vulnerable refugees—the children. In all, we made four forays deep into the settlement, and ultimately handed out thousands of little buns to the children, providing a brief cessation to the anguish of their bellies. We also gave bread at the settlement hospital, to listless patients in the maternity ward and the malaria ward. Once the bakery is fully operational as a bread-selling enterprise, Sophie and Angella are committed to distributing 20% of the products for free to the neediest refugees.

The bakery had just been completed when we arrived. The $16,000 that was spent to build it was adequate to get it started, but there remain many items, large and small, that are required for it to become sustainable. To give one example (unfortunately there are many others), there were electricity blackouts on more than half the days we were there, and the need for a generator to power the mixer during blackout times is critical. Being a poor country besieged with poverty, there are very few resources available. If you can help with a donation, however small, it will be a great benefit to this worthy endeavor. For the record, the bakers will be paid about $2.85 per shift (10,000 Ugandan shillings). A gift of $100 pays more than one month of salary. One hundred percent of each donation will go directly to the bakery. The link to the donation page is found here:

The gratitude that I feel for your consideration will be amplified one hundred times by those who will directly benefit—the bakers, whose lives are being beautifully transformed, and those who receive their breads. Please feel free to forward this donation request to any of your friends and colleagues who may be interested in helping.

Where there is bread, there is hope. With deep thanks,



If you care to keep reading, below is some pre-dawn journal writing I did several days after the trainings began. Some of you may have seen it already.I write while it is early, still insect time, not yet bird time. I’m in the midst of the Uganda days, which have brought wave after wave of blunt profundity. I have never experienced anything close to this. Every aspect of life here is new to me, and fortunately I have been welcomed and accepted, I dare say even respected. That is, except for a small child now and again who is terrified at the sight of this white monster and turns away with piercing wails. This was most poignant on Saturday, the second day of the training. Sophie, who along with Angella, are the two saints who are the prime movers of this endeavor, and fellow trainer Sara, a baker/instructor from Michigan, and I, were driven by Kevin, who works from time to time as driver for Angella, to the Burundi community in the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement, close by the bakery. The bakery was conceived as a way of assisting this settlement, the oldest in Uganda, with a population of 7,000. There is a group of Burundi drummers who are somewhat supported by Angella and Sophie, and we were bringing loaves of freshly sliced bread to them, as well as hundreds of little buns in neat packages of six, for the few dozen Burundi children who are being trained by the drummers–this whole group will be at the bakery later in the week to perform for us, and I can only imagine what that will be like. It had rained hard for an hour or two during the day (fortunately not until production was done, since all the shaping is done under a pole structure with wattle roof and tarp, and the tarp leaked pretty badly), and there were puddles in the deep ruts and ravines we traveled on to get to the community–it would be quite a stretch to call this a road. On left and right were huts that were the human version of what mud daubers build. A dozen people living in three small rooms, one of which is for cooking, is not at all unusual. When the sun is up there is light; when the sun goes down it is dark–there is no electricity. Maybe there is a door.

We arrived at the community (there are also Rwandan and Congolese communities within Oruchinga) ready to implement our neat plan of bread and bun distribution. This changed almost instantly, as Sophie surveyed the scene–people streaming towards us by the dozens. I knelt in the mud, Sara ripped open the bags of six buns and handed them to me one after another, as I handed one bun to each desperate outstretched hand. The bodies were encrusted with mud, there was not one shoe in sight, the look of desperation on the faces of the children pierced my soul like a burning rock. And then it happened–the buns were gone but by no means were the splayed little hands. Partway through the bun-handing time, Sophie knew it would not be possible to give entire sliced loaves to the drummers, so we briefly decided to hand out the sliced loaves in portions of one-third. This lasted just seconds, and we began handing out just one slice to each child. Now some adults got bread too. Of course, the slices too ran out, and you can imagine how wrenching it was to tell all those without that we had no more. Earlier, at the bakery, I had brushed the crumbs from the slicer and brought them out to where the chickens peck (they also freely roam around the outside covered production area under the tarp); I am sure one of the Burundis would have been grateful for those crumbs. One woman said to Sophie “Thank you for this bread. Because of the rain I could not collect firewood, and we have not eaten any food today.” It was partway through the handing out of the buns that one poor little child concluded that it was too fearful, in spite of his pounding empty echoing belly, to risk getting close to the white apparition–he fled as if from the devil, wailing inconsolably. Today we will increase the production so that when the drummers and children come, all will receive bread.

The definition of family here is quite different, fluid and amorphous. Here are some examples: Marion is not a child of Angella’s, but she and her daughter Bridget live safely with her. Marion is 20, and an ace–one of the most eager of the trainees for sure, she also makes beautiful traditional baskets, earrings from bone, pottery, and works tirelessly. Bridget is her only child; she had her when she was 12 years old. This was not a consensual sexual act.

Sophie is raising Sarah. She found her, nameless then, when the infant was two days old. Her birth mother had thrown her, face down, into a septic pit at a hospital where Sophie was visiting a sick niece. Fortunately, her little wails were heard by the night watchman, who rescued her from the pit, but not before she had spent enough time in it to become quite sick. UN personnel helped to tend to her along with Sophie, but they have a three-month rotation, so once that group left, Sophie took her in and adopted her. People told her that the baby was cursed and she should abandon her. Sophie said “this baby was abandoned once, and I will not let her be abandoned a second time.” Sarah is five now, and was at the bakery most of the days of the training. She is a beautiful and charming little girl, a true gift to Life.

On Sunday (our one day off) we spent the day in Mbarara, where Angella lives. Towards the end of the day, we drove to the home of Sophie’s mother. “How old is she?” asked Sara. “She doesn’t know. Maybe 58, maybe 61.” We arrived to be welcomed with the simple quiet hospitality that characterizes the best of the human character. Her mother looked to be in her mid-70s, but not surprisingly, when she smiled, which was frequently, a decade was removed. Four young boys were brought out to meet us as we drank tea, and they danced for us. Sophie’s mother is raising the oldest of them (he is maybe 12). He was abandoned by his mother at one month old. She wanted to make money, so left for the city to work in the sex trade. So Sophie’s mother took him in. Sophie grew up in that house, choking on kerosene fumes; now there is electricity. She described the time, when she was five years old, that there was a drought and famine in Uganda. Once each day her mother would prepare a thin porridge, carefully measure one cup of it into bowls for each family member, and serve it at 4:00 PM (so that there would be a vague sense of food in the belly by the time the children went to bed). This was the entire food intake for the day; it went on like this for five months.

I know that what I am doing is immensely insignificant relative to the needs here, and at the same it may well be the most significant event of my life.

Now it is bird time . . .

Tomato Head’s 25th Birthday

Sometimes, things just fall together.

While the pizzas and burritos you get today from the Tomato Head come from well-crafted ideas and careful calculations, it all started with an engineer who decided to do something bold. 25 years ago in August, Mahasti Vafaie left her career as an engineer, thinking of attending medical school. Instead, she found herself sitting in French café named La Madeline in New Orleans with her mother, realizing a dream to own her own restaurant.

She didn’t start off with pizza in mind.

The opportunity presented itself when the building she rented in Market Square came with pizza equipment. She wasn’t known to be a pizza chef. Yet she was (and is) a talented chef, filled with a passion, and a smart head on her shoulders to open her own pizza joint, remodeling and cleaning it up herself for under $10,000.

By the young age of 27, Mahasti’s Flying Tomato, the former name of the Tomato Head, was already one of the favorites in downtown eating, known for its unique pizza crust. It only sat about 50 people, less when there was live music, but people crowded in for good food, made with healthy ingredients.

There were only seven people on the first staff. Mahasti made all of the bread herself, every morning at 7:30, working countless hours. 25 years later, she and her husband, Scott, have overseen a remodel of the original Market Square location, opened a new store on Kingston Pike, and are able to give back to the community through the Loving Spoonful program.

All of this, while keeping to the basic philosophy that fresh, healthy foods make the best meals; the meals that they would want to feed themselves and their children.

We would like to celebrate 25 years of spinning ‘zza, and we want you to be a part of it. This is as much of a celebration for Mahasti as it is for everyone who has walked through our doors. To say thanks, we are throwing a party on Market Square, featuring live music and more on August 29th from 5-10 p.m. We’ll also be sharing our special Anniversary Brew that evening, and celebrating the musical talents of some of our favorite locals. More details are coming later in the summer, but you won’t want to miss this party. Here’s to you, thanks for 25 years.


Back to the Basics 2015 copy

Big Ears Festival: A macrocosm of Knoxville’s artistic community.

Big Ears Festival is more than music. This is a festival that is as much about expanding communities as it is a lineup. The city of Knoxville is opening its arms again this weekend to welcome back Big Ears and the vast, internationally renowned community of artists of many mediums.

For the second year in a row, the Big Ears community is reaching back to Knoxville through its community outreach program Little Ears which raises money to support The Joy of Music School and the Community school of the Arts. Both of these Knoxville based schools offer opportunities in the arts to children and teens who have trouble affording them otherwise. It’s a welcomed partner of our Loving Spoonful charitable program.

At the Tomato Head, we are proud to be partners with Little Ears and supporting both schools by displaying photographs of the Joy of Music School and paintings from the Community School for the Arts in our Market Square location through March. If you miss them, you can see them in April at our Kingston Pike location.

We are also featuring special Big Ears pint glasses for sale that benefit Little Ears. (More details here) During the festival weekend, stop into the Tomato Head to purchase a Big Ears glass and try the Saw Works Sonic Wit, the featured beer for the festival.

Little Ears is a program with powerful meaning and serious results. Last year, AC entertainment reports having raised almost $4,000 to benefit both of the organizations. This was enough to create two new scholarships for the 2014-2015 school year at the Community School of the Arts. Music education is integral to the festival, according to Neeley Rice, one of the forces behind Big Ears at AC Entertainment. The promise of Big Ears is it features musicians and artists of several mediums who push the envelope in their art.

The festival is in many ways a macrocosm of Knoxville’s talented artistic community that the School of the Arts and Joy of Music have helped to foster, and a level of discipline for the students who are just learning the skills of their art to aspire to. The paintings displayed at the Tomato Head were done by middle and high school students.

For many of them, this is the first time their work has been displayed outside of the school. The work is unique and you don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy the paintings. The photographs of the children at the Joy of Music School are pristine and capture beautiful moments of children learning to play music.

This weekend, Knoxville will again transform into what Jennifer Willard at the Community School for the Arts describes as an international cultural mecca. It’s safe to say that there is a lot of excitement in the air. It will be really neat to see the how the culturally diverse art on display at the Tomato Head through Little Ears is a stepping stone that every artist masters before becoming a force in pushing their craft forward like the artist featured in Big Ears.

Knoxville has such great culture, and this weekend is promising to be very special.

The New Festival Beer You Haven’t Tried

Nothing shines better in the sunshine than the colors of a well brewed beer. That’s certainly what Saw Works Brewing Company is hoping for this spring with the cloudy gold shine of their new Sonic Wit.

Created for the Big Ears Festival, the Sonic Wit was meant to be stimulating on a hot day of drinking. Will, the Head Brewer at Saw Works, explained how the Sonic Wit was inspired by Icelandic ales and Belgian wheat beers with the intention of keeping the unfiltered look and notes of orange while drawing out the wheat to be replaced by Tennessee favorites, rye mash and honey malt.

The result is an unfiltered American ale with an orange-citrus forward note and a smooth honey rye finish that moves quickly across the tongue. This beer is light, easy to drink, and can easily be enjoyed at Big Ears or on a patio in the warm weather.

Luckily, you’ll have a chance to try this beer too, even if you won’t be attending Big Ears this year. The Tomato Head will be one of the only places featuring the Sonic Wit, as part of our Saw Works lineup for our featured brewery of the month, and will be a light orange zest for pairing with a salad, chicken, or chocolate desserts. We’ll tap the keg of this very special beer on Thursday, March 26.

Just as it was intended, the Sonic Wit is a great pairing for food, sunshine, and great music. A number of the Big Ears creators actually helped in the brewing of this beer, which just goes to show the local bonds of our small city that pull together to show that Knoxville has culture worth taste.

Saw Works Brewing Sonic Wit

Big Ears Festival & The Tomato Head fund raise for Joy of Music School and The Community School of the Arts

Howdy beer drinkers and live music lovers! Our first Loving Spoonful fundraiser of 2015 starts today and we think you’re gonna love it.

We’re teaming up with the folks at the Big Ears Festival’s Little Ears program, an educational component of the annual contemporary music festival. Through the program, local students from The Joy of Music School and The Community School of the Arts are given hands-on music education experiences throughout the festival weekend. Little Ears also provides financial support to each organization via donations from each ticket sold to the Big Ears, and fundraiser partnerships like our pint glass fundraiser.

At both Tomato Head locations, you’ll find these snazzy pint glasses for sale. One side has the Big Ears logo and on the other has Tomato Head’s. 100% of the proceeds from each one sold will be split between each nonprofit.

The glasses retail for $2.95 for one, 2 for $5.50, or 4 for $10. Thank you for helping raise money for Community School of the Arts and Joy of Music School. Order any draft beer and the glasses are only $2.50!

Additionally, “Little Ears Presents: Expressions in Arts Education” will be on view at the Market Square Tomato Head from March 9th through April 5th. The exhibit will then move to 7240 Kingston Pike Tomato Head from April 6th through May 4th.

Tomato Head Big Ears_7369

December Loving Spoonful Fundraisers for the Love Kitchen

Final month of Loving Spoonful fundraisers benefit the Love Kitchen.

“Never take the last piece of bread. Someone may come by in need of it” is one of the three principles guiding the Love Kitchen for more than 27 years. And in that spirit, we ask Knoxvillians to break bread with the Love Kitchen as The Tomato Head hosts its final month of Loving Spoonful fundraisers for 2015.

Join the Love Kitchen and The Tomato Head each Tuesday in December as they host fundraisers with a portion of the proceeds from all food and drink sales (beer & wine included) generated during lunch and dinner at both Tomato Head locations going directly to The Love Kitchen.

“The Love Kitchen is very excited to partner with The Tomato Head to raise money to help feed the people of our community. Since the Love Kitchen has no paid staff, 100% of the money donated goes directly to helping the people who need it the most,” said Patrick Riggins, President of the Love Kitchen.

On Tuesday, December 16, both Tomato Head locations host a pint night featuring RJ Rockers Brewing Company. When a customer orders any RJ Rockers on draft, they’ll get a free RJ Rockers pint glass while supplies last.

“Because they spread love and kindness through food, the Love Kitchen was an obvious choice to be our December Loving Spoonful partner,” said Mahasti Vafaie Tomato Head owner. “The fact that they are so immensely successful through an all-volunteer workforce means that nearly 100% of all donations go directly to homeless and homebound folks in our community.”

On February 14, 1986; the Love Kitchen first served 22 people in a small church in east Knoxville. Today, the Love Kitchen has its own building about 2 blocks from where it started and serves over 3,000 meals each week with more than eighty percent of those meals being delivered to homebound recipients.

For more information or interviews, please contact Patrick Riggins, The Love Kitchen President, at 865-546-3248 and, or Michael Kuczmarski, The Tomato Head’s Marketing Director, at and 865-850-2318.

To donate directly to the Love Kitchen, visit


About The Love Kitchen

The Love Kitchen, founded by sisters Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner, provides meals, clothing and emergency food packages to homebound, homeless and unemployed persons. The organization has no paid staff; all donations go to those who need it most. Their ultimate goal is to provide nourishment for anyone who is hungry and to establish a community center to serve as a safe haven supporting area children and their families.

About The Tomato Head

Opened in 1990, The Tomato Head is committed to helping the community by supporting sustainable agriculture, giving to East Tennessee nonprofits, and recycling its packaging waste. Its charitable donation program, Loving Spoonful, is a partnership between East Tennessee nonprofits and the restaurant. It consists of a series of Tuesday fundraisers with a percentage of the proceeds raised going to our community partner of the month.

November Loving Spoonful Fundraisers for The Muse Knoxville

Fundraisers for urban garden at children’s science museum in Chilhowee Park.

Join The Muse Knoxville and The Tomato Head each Tuesday in November as they host fundraisers that will add a new addition to the children’s science museum. “The funds raised throughout this month will be used to develop our on-site garden beds and the educational programs that will reconnect visitors with the natural world and the true source of their food,” said Ellie Kittrell, Executive Director of The Muse.

A portion of the proceeds from all food and drink sales generated during lunch and dinner at both Tomato Head locations goes directly to The Muse Knoxville.

“One of the focal points of the Loving Spoonful program is non-profits that work with kids,” said Scott Partin, Tomato Head co-owner. “When we looked at the energy and thoughtfulness going in to the redesign and growth of The Muse project we knew we wanted to be a part.”

With close to 4000 square feet, The Muse presents Knoxville’s only public access Planetarium, an exhibit for preschoolers to test motor skills and express themselves creatively as well as exhibits related to science, engineering, and design for older students.

“We are humbled that Tomato Head has selected The Muse as the November Loving Spoonful recipient and appreciate the commitment that Mahasti and Scott continue to provide to our organization,” said Ellie Kittrell.

For more information or interviews, please contact Ellie Kittrell, The Muse Knoxville Executive Director, at 865-594-1494 and, or Michael Kuczmarski, The Tomato Head’s Marketing Director, at and 865-850-2318.

About The Muse Knoxville

The Muse Knoxville is passionate about involving the community as a partner in the programs and services they provide families, which includes teaching kids valuable gardening and agriculture concepts and skills that integrate with several subjects, such as math, science, art, health and physical education, and social studies, as well as several educational goals, including personal and social responsibility.

About The Tomato Head

Opened in 1990, The Tomato Head is committed to helping the community by supporting sustainable agriculture, giving to East Tennessee nonprofits, and recycling its packaging waste. Its charitable donation program, Loving Spoonful, is a partnership between East Tennessee nonprofits and the restaurant. It consists of a series of Tuesday fundraisers with a percentage of the proceeds raised going to our community partner of the month.

The Muse Knoxville Playground build

October Loving Spoonful Fundraisers for Childhelp Tennessee

Loving Spoonful fundraisers raise awareness of child abuse in East Tennessee

Join us each Tuesday in October as we host fundraisers to support victims of child abuse.  A portion of the proceeds from all food and drink sales generated during lunch and dinner at both Tomato Head locations goes directly to Childhelp Tennessee.

“Childhelp is thrilled to be partnering with our Friends the Tomato Head this October, said Hugh Nystrom, Director of Childhelp Tennessee. “I know Mahasti and Scott are committed to making Knoxville a safer place for children and we are grateful for their support.”

In 2013, Childhelp Tennessee investigated 1370 allegations of child abuse. By providing all services necessary to investigate abuse under one roof, they reduce secondary trauma to the child producing more reliable cases against the perpetrator so the child never has to experience abuse again.

“One of our target areas for Loving Spoonful partnerships is groups that work with children. Childhelp Tennessee provides crucial services to children who desperately need those services,” said Scott Partin, co-owner of The Tomato Head. “Because of the professionalism, thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the Childhelp program many kids have the chance to recover from terrible situations. We are honored to help on that process in any way we can.”

For more information or interviews, please contact Hugh Nystrom, Childhelp Tennessee Director, at 865-637-1753 and, or Michael Kuczmarski, The Tomato Head’s Marketing Director, at and 865-850-2318.

About Childhelp Tennessee

Since 1995, Childhelp’s East Tennessee Chapter, with the help of several community members and organizations, has served as an advocate for frightened and fragile victims of child abuse and neglect through two primary programs – the Children’s Center of East Tennessee and the Childhelp Foster Family Agency of East Tennessee. The Children’s Center provides all the services necessary to treat and investigate child abuse under one roof – medical personnel, law enforcement, child protection investigators and mental health professionals. The Childhelp Foster Family Agency of East Tennessee provides case management, foster homes and foster-to-adoption placements for children who are in the state foster care system. The program has been recognized as having one of the highest adoption percentages of any agency in the state of Tennessee.

September Loving Spoonful Fundraisers for Friends of Literacy

Join us each Tuesday in September as we host fundraisers to support adult education.  A portion of the proceeds from all food and drink sales generated during lunch and dinner at both Tomato Head locations goes directly to Friends of Literacy. Every $100 provides one month of instruction for one student.

“Friends of Literacy is excited to partner with Tomato Head as their Loving Spoonful recipient for the month of September,” said Melissa Nance, Executive Director of Friends of Literacy. “As a small local non-profit, it is great to work with another local small business to raise funds to provide free reading classes for the 1 in 12 adults in Knoxville unable to read or write above a 6th grade level.”

Since 1991, Friends of Literacy (FOL) has been a resource for adults in Knox County, Tennessee, who are under-educated or illiterate. Working in partnership with area adult education providers, FOL offers free literacy and high school equivalency diploma (GED and HiSET) classes at locations throughout Knox County. Additionally, FOL’s NEXT STEP program helps GED/HiSET students and recent graduates transition to post-secondary education and/or the workplace.

“Friends of Literacy provides a much needed service to the Knoxville Community with their adult literacy programs. Their highly effective means of using their budget and their dedicated volunteers to deliver results made the decision to partner with them for the September Loving Spoonful fundraiser a very easy one, “said Tomato Head co-owner Scott Partin.

To make a donation to Friends of Literacy and see how money people will benefit from your gift, please visit

For more information or interviews, please contact Melissa Nance, Friends of Literacy Executive Director, at 865-549-7007 and, or Michael Kuczmarski, The Tomato Head’s Marketing Director, at and 865-850-2318.

About Friends of Literacy

The mission of Friends of Literacy is to support the delivery of free, high-quality literacy and adult education programs for adults in Knox County who are inadequately educated to meet the challenges of daily life. Working in partnership with area adult education providers, our goal is to help provide basic education and life-skills training so that our students become better workers, parents and citizens.

Friends of Literacy

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