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The Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem is a full-service soup kitchen and food pantry that helps provide more than 50,000 free meals to clients each month. Breakfast is served twice a week and dinner is prepared and served Monday through Friday evenings. The Kitchen is open to anyone who walks in, which tends to be approximately 300–500 clients every evening. The Community Kitchen needed help streamlining their service as clients were waiting outside in long lines and the dining room was only 77% utilized. TSSC identified an opportunity to increase dining room utilization to 100% and eliminate the line outside.


Clients often waited in poor weather conditions and the long lines crowded the sidewalks and disturbed adjacent businesses. The client flow was idle ahead of serving, creating a delay in receiving food and being seated. The problem was rooted in the existing process of seating 10 clients at a time for meal service.


Once onsite, TSSC sought to tackle the most pressing problem relating to the long wait times outside the Harlem Community Kitchen. The team quickly determined that instead of serving 10 clients at one time, it is more efficient to serve clients one-by-one. The team also suggested the idea of creating an on-deck area for the next batch of customers to wait on stand-by and assigned a ‘point person’ to ensure customer flow by assisting clients to open seats. With these changes, once a client finished eating, the Community Kitchen was able to more quickly and efficiently serve the next client.


By applying concepts of the Toyota Production System to food distribution, the outside line at the Community Kitchen dropped from 1.5 hours to 18 minutes.¬†Additionally, TSSC and the Food Bank for New York City continue to work together to serve more people with faster service and shorter lines. TSSC’s goal is to develop the New York City Food Bank kaizen team to spread TPS concepts throughout its vast New York City Food Bank network ( 900 agencies) for maximum impact.


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