Nikki Heckmann’s story highlights both the ability of individuals to use their passions to pursue the common good, as well as the ability of the Church to play an active and crucial role as a catalyst in the process.
When Nikki Heckmann became a Christian at the age of 30, she had an impressive vocational track record: she had become a successful chef and had opened 57 restaurants. Upon joining Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh, she served in several different capacities, such as working as a youth volunteer. It was not until a caterer failed to show up for a dinner at the church that Nikki began to see that she could use her vocational skills and passions in her service. Despite her already busy schedule as a restaurant owner working 70 hours a week, Nikki began helping the kitchen ministry staff. It was not long before the pastors of the church asked her to join the staff of the church full-time. Throughout her time working at the church, Nikki occupied several roles: janitorial staff manager, member of the pastoral staff, and kitchen ministries volunteer.
After finishing seminary and while on the pastoral team at ACAC, Nikki began to realize that she was not using the gifts that God had given her. She told the head pastor, “I really don’t fit into a pastors team. I’m hands on…I do street level stuff.” In response, the pastor graciously encouraged her to take two months of paid time off to discover the calling that God had on her life. It was during these two months that Nikki decided she needed to open a new restaurant on East Ohio Street in the North Side of Pittsburgh. The restaurant industry was her calling, and Nikki could not deny it.
When Nikki approached her senior pastor with this news, he told her that the church wanted to support her by taking care of her salary until the doors of the restaurant opened. With this financial and relational support, Nikki began the journey of starting Bistro 2 Go. The urban setting of the North Side was quite different from the suburbs where Nikki moved from, but because of her passion for the area, she grew to become a part of the culture.
Through Bistro 2 Go, Nikki has touched the lives of many individuals in the local area, making her work an excellent example of Pathway Three (“Start Your Own Social Enterprise”). She sees Bistro 2 Go as a place for community members who are “searching for a place to connect.” However, she not only seeks to bless her patrons, but also her employees. Seventy percent of the employees that Nikki hires are men and women who are in life transition. For example, she said, “I have one woman that after 40 years was let go from a company. Her life was in upheaval. We actually led her to the Lord…and that just happened naturally because we extended an arm to her.”
Furthermore, Nikki works to create a positive work environment at Bistro 2 Go. She said, “I don’t do ministry, per say; I provide the environment…You can feel a sense of presence that it’s a safe place.” She ensures that her employees receive good wages, and promotes a sense of autonomy and equality in the work place. In addition to fostering a vibrant and healthy work atmosphere, Nikki also uses the restaurant as an opportunity to support local North Side non-profit organizations and churches. She caters for these organizations at a reduced price or for free. She considers these acts of generosity her restaurant’s “tithe.”
Nikki never expected Bistro 2 Go to be as successful as it has, but God has been gracious. She said, “We have 36 people on staff and did a million dollars last year. We never would have thought on urban East Ohio Street – undeveloped, drug alley with no parking – that it would be successful. I came in with 4 staff thinking I would be baking pies and mentoring kids.” Some of Nikki’s strongest supporters throughout this process have been the members of ACAC, the church she has now been attending for 18 years. Members come to eat lunch there frequently and the church uses her catering services for their dinners and events.
Nikki’s story is a clear and refreshing example of vocational stewardship. She is using the vocational skills that God has given her to bless people in her community, her employees, and local non-profit organizations. She operates her business on biblical principles and strives to reflect God’s kingdom in each aspect of her work. It was with the support of Allegheny Center Alliance Church that Nikki was able to actively seek out and live out God’s calling on her life.