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Rise, fall, and redemption: the story of TRM’s top chef

How a former 5-star chef once indicted for sex-trafficking, is now on a mission at the Mission
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 10:33 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - An eatery that may be the newest, best place to grab a bite in the Capital City is not a restaurant that’s open to the public. In fact, the private dining space caters to very special guests at the Topeka Rescue Mission. It’s leader was once a 5-star chef, creating meals for VIP’s, but Sean Hall’s very public fall from grace -- drove him to his knees asking for forgiveness and a second slice at life.

“I’ve been a groundskeeper, a landscaper, I’ve done... Uh, I was a limo driver at one time. I was an AC repairman. I’ve did floors. I’ve done so many things, but I found my calling in culinary arts,” Hall told 13 News.

Sean Hall grew up in Las Vegas, but his early life was far from the glitz and glamour of the strip. He says it was a violent time and drugs were prevalent. Hall was in an out of jail as an adult--something considered normal in his house growing up.

He finally found worldly success as a chef.

“At one time I was actually an executive chef over a huge program,” Hall said. “I was over 4.5 million dollars in food, another 1.3 or 4 million dollars in beverage. I had 136 employees. We fed dignitaries and presidents--just the upper echelon of who you want to feed.”

Still, hall found the fame and finances left him unfulfilled.

“I kind of threw all that away,” Hall explained.

He was married with a child, but hall was drinking and says he was a horrible father. It was time for a change.

“Coming here to Kansas from Vegas, I thought I was coming to a new start; but, what I actually did was bring me, with me and that was the biggest problem. You know, I came to a new city, but I still brought the strongholds with me; the strongholds of sin.”

Hall ended up working at a night club, becoming involved in a human trafficking ring. He says even in that, they were trying to find some goodness in the midst of it--convincing themselves they were bettering women’s lives. Eventually, he was arrested and indicted.

“I was in a corner at 45-years-old, and I couldn’t make any more turns” Hall said.

With no one to turn to, it was the beginning of a new beginning.

“I had lost hope--you know, and in that I found Jesus, and my life has just been the exact opposite ever since. I’ve never been so happy and joyous and fulfilled in my life since that relationship started.”

Hall met the mission’s executive director, Barry Feaker, at a human trafficking conference. A friendship developed that eventually led him here.

“What a better place to be than a rescue mission around other people who are looking for hope--that they can change, too--to have somebody in his position to say, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I can show you how.”

Longtime kitchen employees are excited about chef’s plans for a future culinary art school at the mission.

“We need to train people,” kitchen supervisor Tina Greeve told 13 News. “Teach ‘em how to cook, stuff like that so they can go out and get a job--not a job, a career.”

The culinary arts school will be followed by a catering business to help raise funds for the mission.

“We’re gonna put out the best food in the city right here in the mission. That’s what we’re gonna do--with the donations that we’re given. We’re gonna take chicken and turn it into chicken ala keene.”

Now, 50, Chef Sean Hall has found his place and his people.

“You came in today and said ‘What’s on the menu?’,” Hall asked. “We’re not preparing meals here. We’re preparing life.”

The mission’s previous director of food services passed away from COVID-19 last fall. Both Chef Hall and Barry Feaker paid tribute to long-time employee Mike Shinkle. They talked about the foundation he laid for his successor to build on and the legacy he leaves behind.

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