You know you’re old when you start applauding teens working a long Sunday kitchen shift at Worth Our Weight. And even older when you force your own teenager to observe this kind of unnatural behavior. “See,” you say, “this is an example of hard work. You may want to try it out sometime.”

Sigh. Eye roll. Sigh. But the message sinks in between bites of lox and bagels; huevos rancheros with pulled pork and buttermilk waffles: These kids aren’t just working hard. They can actually cook.

Worth Our Weight has slowly but surely become a Santa Rosa institution under Chef Evelyn Cheatham’s steady guidance. An on-the-job culinary apprentice program for 15-24-year-olds, WOW has settled into a solid weekend brunch routine in the last two years at their 1021 Hahman Drive location. And by solid, I mean really good.

Operating as a community table on Saturday and Sunday, brunchers pay what they can for the three-course brunch (pastries and fruit, entrees like bagels and lox, waffles, eggs and a chocolate pot de creme for dessert). “We take cash, check or IOU’s,” said one of the culinary students. There’s no suggested amount for donation, so it’s up to diners to determine what the meal was worth. (I left $10 per person plus a $5 tip).

Because of the community aspect, the brunch draws a broad cross-section of folks. Recently its become a destination for the local scooterati as well as chefs, foodies and neighborhood supporters. (And speaking of scooters, there’s a Vespa raffle going on through the beginning of October to help support the program).

Students who are accepted to the program (most have faced significant challenges in their lives) learn not only how to cook, but also how to work the dining room — meaning handling customers, taking orders and serving the food. TheĀ  students are clearly well-trained and try hard to make the experience professional, but this is clearly, a learning environment, so there are inevitable snafus and gaffes that make the dining event even more charming.

Worth their weight, and then some.

Worth Our Weight: 1021 Hahman Drive, Santa Rosa, (707) 544-1200

In addition to brunch (Saturday 9am-2p, Sunday 9am to 1pm), WOW serves an Apprentice Dinner at 6pm the third Friday of each month and a take-out ribs, chicken and tri-tip dinner for pick-up on the second Friday of the month.