Drake takes drink orders, greets regular customers with a warm handshake and sets the tables for the next wave of the lunch crowd. It’s a stark change from the sheepish man who patrons first encountered when Harvest Café opened its doors in the beginning of 2011.
“My goodness, it’s like night and day. You’d see the change in him week by week,” says Jean Ringhoff, a regular at the café who works at a nearby bank. “At first, he barely made eye contact.”
Drake, like the restaurant itself, now commands a second look.
The pale yellow house with the white wrap-around porches serves not only as a fully-operating restaurant, but also as a day habilitation program for people with developmental disabilities.
Harvest Café is owned and operated by A Very Special Place (AVSP), a not-for-profit corporation for people with varying degrees of developmental disabilities on Staten Island, New York.
Day-to-day operations in the café - whose slogan is “great food with a mission” - are carried out by both paid, trained restaurant workers and AVSP trainees (or “consumers” as AVSP calls the people in their programs) with disabilities. On-site, the latter receives occupational training to prepare them for entry into the workplace, and ultimately, a more independent and fulfilling life.
The corporation has a variety of "day-hab," vocational programs, but the restaurant concept took shape after AVSP directors noticed how quickly the spots filled up in their recreational cooking classes.
“What’s the number one industry in New York City? Food. And what’s the number one thing that all of our consumers really like? Food. It’s something everybody can relate to,” says Diane Buglioli, the Deputy Executive Director of AVSP.
Despite its now sunny exterior, the restaurant location itself has a somewhat storied past: The current café was a motorcycle shop, gentlemen’s club and then condemned for about five years before the AVSP made it their own special place - right down to the art on the walls, which is created by the program’s enrollees.
Thus far, two trainees – Drake and Shanta – have found a recipe for success and been promoted to paid employment. Because the nature and severity of the trainee’s disabilities varies greatly, Bulglioli says sometimes that route isn’t always a viable option, but the sense of self-reliance and independence from the training program can be monumental.
Even on slow days, the trainees practice daily skills like taking each other’s orders and setting tables so their education stays on pace.
Buglioli says the trainees start slowly with one skill level - like folding napkins - then move up to another more advanced skill level - like chopping lettuce - as the supervisors advise. The skill set is important, but Buglioli says it’s also necessary that the trainee can handle the social environment of the restaurant as well and remain safe in the kitchen under the guidance of the hired employees.
“We’re careful when we hire people because they have to have a feeling and a sensitivity working here - and know that it might take longer for them to do something,” says Buglioli.
Shannon Molokie, a hired waitress at the café, calmly says, “Come back to the kitchen, it’s ok, we’ll figure it out,” when one of the trainees brings out an iced tea to the wrong table.
Molokie, along with the other hired staff like manager Nicholas DiBartolomeo, go through on-site training of their own to learn how to interact with people with special needs.
Back in the kitchen, Alan, an AVSP trainee, tops off a bowl of bread pudding with whipped cream.
“Wait, I forgot the cinnamon,” he says, as a waitress reaches in for the order.
A thick New York accent comes from behind the burners. “Alan’s the man,” says Rob Burmeister, the chef at Harvest Café.
Burmeister was forced to close his own Staten Island eatery, Chow Gourmet, when the economy took a turn for the worst. He was looking for his next project when he came across the opening in the paper.
“It was perfect because I always wanted to blend cooking with helping out special needs people,” says Burmeister. “My nephew has special needs, so I finally had a reason to bring them both together and do it in one shot.”
While people in the restaurant industry are notorious for their fire-and-brimstone temper tantrums, Burmeister says there’s none of that in his kitchen. To him, it’s a welcome change.
“You can work all your life in a restaurant trying to teach people and they don’t want to be there, but the consumers are great,” he says. “They want to be here, they want to learn.”
Is there a restaurant making a difference in your neighborhood? Tip us off in the comments below.
Inspirational story and great to see how many community-driven restaurants are out there! Have to share Kula Cafe in Asbury Park, NJ – http://www.kulacafe.org
It's wonderfiul to hear of so many programs like ours all over the country and to see how warmly they are accepted in each of their communities. It proves what a good and generous people we are in this great nation.Thank you all for taking the time to post such kind responses and for supporting us in our mission to enable people with developmental disabilities to live fuller lives.
i would pay good money to have the privilege of dining there. i wish we had places like that everywhere.
What a great story! Sometimes all people need a a chance. It's not about your disability. It's about your character.
STOP Obama's terrorism against Medical Marijuana cancer patients. STOP his brutality.
Jt_flyer, you are so correct. Customer Service in any arena is tough because customers can be down right mean, so my hat is definitly off to this endeavor. What a great idea!
Our Community Place, in Harrisonburg, VA, is a beautiful place where anyone in the world is welcome. For over 20 years, there has been a meal in Harrisonburg where the person who came to eat helps make the meal, and the person who came to serve sits down and eats. We all have gifts. http://www.ourcommunityplace.org
MILAGRO'S Restaurant in Wimberley, Texas has a young man with Down Syndrome who works the front on weekends. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as he works very hard and is incredibly loyal. The Spragues who own the restaurant treat him with great respect unlike Chili's (where he worked for 2 years).
Wow, I live in MD, need to go up there and check this place out!! And all the other amazing places posters have mentioned. My friends and I love supporting non-profits like this!!! Kudos to the founders/directors, you just made my day!! :)
Happy Cup Coffee in Portland OR!
I'm glad I stumbled on this article. :-)
Also a great fan of FareStart (http://farestart.org) in Seattle, WA. Love their food, mission and training program!
Red’s Diner at 1 Greenleaf Court, Belleville, ON K8N 5T5
The diner is a fully functioning diner that is operated by QVSS as a training program for persons with developmental disabilities. Red’s Diner started in 1999 and has been tremendously successful at training and placing individuals into the community workplace and accurately assessing what level of employment trainees should seek in the food service industry.
Areas of training include:
maintenance and safety procedures
At ArtHouseCoffees.com in the Arts District of Maplewood, Missouri we roast small batches of responsibly grown, amazing coffee for a local cafe and coffee aficionados. We label the bags with art from the turnercenterforthearts.org a 501c3 and all of our profits go to support the TCA. We employ a man who has a brain injury to label, weigh and fill bags and as our Minister of Propaganda he hosts coffee events and teaches folks about the coffee and the causes it supports. We are having a blast! Thanks for asking!!
Sunday Dinner Company – Detroit Michigan
I'm co-owner of SDC on E. Jefferson near downtown Detroit. Chef Giles and I had a vision to provide life opportunities for a many a challenged individuals. Our focus has been on returning citizens (ex-felons who need a second chance), at-risk-youth (many have raised themselves, been passed through the public school systems without the skills to make a living), develop challenged some of our BEST employees to date and the creators of our deserts that have received no. 1 ranking in downtown Detroit – yes, Mr. ChefMan, you can have award winning dishes and great public acknowledgement through the talents and skills of many different people... open your eyes, ears and heart... you MAY learn something of intense value.
Detroit is a proud city... but, the city has such tremendous challenges on all levels. We are trying to do our part and contribution in helping to re-build Detroit…. one plate at a time. Our entire restaurant was HAND built by returning citizens (partner with Goodwill Industries – flip the script program) and is a testimonial to what can be done by young men and women who do want to change their life if only someone provides the knowledge and patience to teach. I know, I personally taught the crew the construction skills… most have never picked up a hammer in their entire life... it goes far beyond the skills you teach. Confidence building, spirit building, sense of pride and belonging to something important.
Modeled after New Orleans famed Café Reconcile and Ann Arbor’s Zingermans… our operations is led by chef Giles. He teaches culinary arts, restaurant management, and operations skills to the staff. He has a heart of an angel and a work ethic of a drill sergeant... I so applaud him... the youth love him… hang on every one of his words…
To the guests that say they would support this type of business... I beg of you, put your money where your mouth is.... you have no idea how difficult this is... the economic challenges in these times needs everyone to DECIDE where you are going to spend your dollars... PLEASE spend it wisely and invest in a business who is trying to make a difference.
I say this only because we have so many supporters. However, the business is still a challenge. It hurts me to see chef in tears... a powerful 6'4" tall man, in desperation on how to keep it going because people say they support the idea, but the bottom line is people are still less forgiving if they aren’t provided the perfect service they expect from the traditional restaurant. We have tried everything, even a flyer in the menu that mentioned what their choice is supporting, a speech by the at risk youth/wait-staff, a personal visit by chef to the table, and still... the complaints are amazing... I'm confused... are we a people so focused on "me" that we are forgetting that it is "WE/US" that makes a civilization?...
Chef and I are both strong believers in God (he, more so than I – undying faith… I, truth be told, am more challenged)… we believe in the good in people… I pray that each of us see the good in others around us and support in whatever way we can… be creative… figure out something positive… a word of encouragement instead of tht negative comment to your server – it really does hurt a young person… it makes an impression, engage in the process to help teach others with the knowledge you have been given… I only ask that you part with that knowledge in a loving and kind way…. people are smart… and will always come up with solutions when we need to…
To whomever read through this … I apologize if I went on.. offended anyone, or came across incorrect… if anything, maybe this was helpful to my own spirit as I needed an eye to read or ear to listen…
Co-owner Dave… the Sunday Dinner Company, Detroit Mi…
I wish I were closer so I could visit Harvest Cafe. I would enjoy the experience and the food. I was just thinking how sick society is: politics has become a blood sport, school kids committing suicide because of bullying and things posted on FaceBook and I see a nice story like this.
Home Girl Cafe in downtown L.A., part of the wonderful Homeboy Industries started by Father Gregory Boyle. Employees are former gang members who've been rehabilitated by the opportunity to work, gain a sense of accomplishment and start believing in themselves.
Ransom Cafe in Mobile, AL operates on a "pay what you can" basis to serve everyone. http://www.ransomcafe.com
You need to do an article on The Coffee Oasis in Bremerton, WA. It started out as a coffee shop/restaurant where teens and kids could go to hang out in a safe environment and evolved to serve homeless teens and young adults. They are AMAZING. They have a laundry facility, showers, food and clothes lockers, counselors, tutors, and they partner with the local schools and businesses for job training for their teens/young adults. They even partnered with Peninsula Community Health Services to set up a fund to get homeless teens medical care and dental when it's needed. They are opening their very first real shelter for unaccompanied minors, I believe it's only one of two in all of WA state. Needless to say these people are amazing and an asset to the community. Their website is http://www.thecoffeeoasis.com/
It's not a cafe, but the Sugar Plum Bakery in Virginia Beach VA also employs the functionally disabled, and they make wonderful cakes and pastries.
I will take this (maybe slower service) any day over waiters/waitresses who demand 20% tip and I will gladly give these folks 30%+ tips even if they mess up.
Georgette's in downtown Maumee, Ohio. There's a nice story behind the name – http://www.georgettes.org/whos_george.php
What a wonderful story!! I applaud those who put this restaurant together and those who work there. I hope that those who are able in the restaurant industry will follow this business format across the country. Well done.
Mr. Chef Man,
By the way you refer to people with disabilities I can only make a professional assessment that you have a definite cognitive disability. The first sign would be your impulse control disorder which allows you to blatantly and without control refer to people with disabilities as retards. By the way I can guarantee their spelling is much more advanced than yours. I can see you are experienced, but not in the fine culinary line, I would put you more in the catagory of being an arrogant, self centered,person who has no idea what empathy is. You really should apologize!
There's a small coffee shop in Ballwin MO (in the western suburbs of STL) called More Than Coffee. http://www.morethancoffee.net/
The owner - who is himself physically disabled - employs physically and mentally challenged people to work in his store. Many of his employees have been able to transition to paid employment in other restaurants/food service situations. His shop was featured on Extreme Makeover about 4 years ago ... they remodeled it to better accommodate those with disabilities.
I don't live or work in that part of St. Louis County, so I don't have an opportunity to patronize his store. If I did, though, I would certainly make a point of going there.
There is also McMurphy's Grill on the edge of downtown STL, which is run by the St. Patrick Center and employs homeless and mentally ill people, giving them an opportunity to learn food service skills and helps them find restaurant-related employment. (McMurphy's Grill was the first such program in the US to target homeless and mentally ill.)
Hattie's Cafe in Hudson (just south of Cleveland, OH) is another restaurant that employs handicapped people – opened in 2006 and now has 3 locations. More about it here: http://www.hattielarlham.org/v/cafe-about.asp
I don';t want my food made,or served by retards.
You see,I am a very highly experiences resturanter.and these 'people' are a mockery to the fine culinary art of food making and serving.
Hey Mr. Chef Man. First of all before you go on a rant maybe you should learn how to spell. Secondly, what kind of horrible person lashes out out at defenseless people that are just trying to learn a few skills that will help them in the community. I would take any of these trainees over you in any restaurant scenario. Better yet why don't I set up a spelling bee between you and them and see who makes a mockery out of themselves. My money is on you.
These trainees work very hard at what they do and the staff is very proud of them. Karma is a beautiful thing my friend. I wish I could be there when Karma smacks you in the face.
The Harvest cafe and many sites like it around the globe are such a great idea and I am glad that I have a chance to be part of it.
The fact that you use the term "retard", shows your lack of understanding on disability in itself and suggest that maybe YOU, in fact also have some level of cognitive disability. Your spelling certainly seems to indicate something, or maybe a lack of something. What this restaurant is doing is training people to live independently which we all want, and when people DO live that way, it's actually a less burden on tax payers.... and guess what, THEY can go to the restaurants you claim to work at.. which keeps people like you employed.
The problem with our society is not that people are disabled. Our society is disabled..... Our attitudes towards diversity is disabled. Everyone should have equal access, even to employment but it's people like YOU that keep people with disabilities down... which in turns hurts our society. If anyone is disabled, it's you.... and your attitude.
Wake up. It's 2012.
Wonderful story, though.
Dude you're a tool, get over yourself. Get to know some people with special needs and you'll realize they have a lot to offer. Congats to the Harvest Cafe.
Nothin' but a Flamer.
Are u disabled?.
I am glad they don't have to work for a jerk like you and no one would want you as a customer anyway.
First of all, you need to put the pot's and pan's down, and GO TO SCHOOL!! Your punctuation and grammatical errors are laughable! What a cruel thing to say, these people have more charachter and smarts than you will ever have.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Those who think they are perfect, their weakness is in the area of humbleness and compassion. I have had a few bosses like you, they all have ADHD and create a mindfleld in the workplace because they lack emotional intelligence. Your weakness, lies in your thinking you are perfect. Anyone over the age of 30 should know better. If we are mature adults, we know we need compassion from others.
This story made my day ! Thank you !
Wow! Did anyone read that article about "Tyler", the 25 year old still living above his parent's garage with the college degree who didn't know who to vote for? He should read this article! Hahahaha!
What an inspiring story! Wish I lived nearby so I could eat there on a regular basis! Best of luck in this continuing story!
There is an organization called East House in Rochester, NY that literally just opened a cookie store called Darn Good Cookie Co. in Rochester that provides employment opportunities to their clients, and helps them transition back into the workforce. I tried the cookies and they are darn good, but more importantly, they are helping people. So nice to see happy news for a change, and about organizations helping people across the country. More power to them!
It's too bad they don't have programs like this for the deaf–which has the nations highest unemployment for any group-72.3% per all 50 state vocab rehabilitation statistics. Most deaf are on SSI as they have no choice.
Sadly employment rates are similar for people who are blind due to low literacy rates because schools don't want to teach Braille anymore. Blind people who know Braille have a much higher employment rate.
Education and vocational training for those with disabilites is important. Parents have to push for opportunities and advocate for children so they can grow up to be productive adults. I know I advocate for my son constantly.
are you serious?? Deaf people are some of the most pretentious people. they demand that everyone should learn sign language to accomadate them, many have demanded that cochlear implants be banned since they stupidly believe deaf ppl actually want to be deaf... thats the classic definition of pretention. and how would you communicate with them anyway since many stubbornly use sign language knowing their audience doesnt understand it (a sign of arrogance)
"would you like a side order of arrogance to go with your fries?" , signed the server as the confused patron stared on.
Amen. I've got your back on this.
Such ignorance. Cochlear implants only give a person the ability to understand maybe 50% of words spoken–about the same as lip reading. I know. I have one. I lip read. Get a life jerk.
@practicalm – your ignorance is showing. NOT all deaf people are pretentious. I am deaf, and I do not demand hearing people learn but for them to know some basic signs is helpful when we have no choice but to interact with each other.
The ones you call pretentious are probably that way because the so-called professionals force them to speak, ban use of their hands/native language, all for "oralism". I speak/write English, support my Deaf culture, etc but I also believe they, my fellow Deafies, should be able to write English not ASL on paper.
Research before you speak, please.
@more2bits – can you provide a link to the numbers you quoted? thanks
Just visit any local McDonalds and you will see the same thing. McDonald's has been putting the "special" in special sauce for years. At lease at this place it looks like they are making halfway decent food.
That last photo looks great. I'd love to try sweet and sour red cabbage. Good read.
They have had a similar place like that for a long time now. It's called McDonald's
Unlike Mc Donald's though these guys MAKE real food.
their food is great!
My mentally disabled daughter works for a very similar cafe in Ohio called Hatties Cafe. It has changed her life wonderfully. Hatties has cafes, a bakery even a dog grooming site all with special needs employees. Companies like Hatties that work with the physically and mentally challenge are a blessing. I have seen the abuse mu daughter has endured in the regular work market and am thankful places like Hatties exsist.
Wanda – I am so proud of you calling out the "Discrimination in hiring ATTITUDES And Practices" as it is –ABUSE !! Serious Emotional and Psychological Abuse of those "committed" to improving their lives, being productive workers and taxpayers, STRIVING to attain "independent" life-styles, self esteem, – and so on!!!
OH! WHATwill our Customers think? I dont want to SEE a cripple (substitute similar) around here all day!
Shouldnt he be selling Pencils or something. I HAVE Heard all of these And Many more!
Physical affliction – in No way – equates to mental-emotional-other-deficiency –ability-to-Learn-or Perform!
IN FACT the disabled ARE More devoted to superior performance, loyalty, teamwork, ETC than 99% of us!
There's nothing like a job to make a person feel good about one's self,people need to feel productive and needed.I hope this business thrives because of the hope it gives folks with difficulties in their lives.
great cause, if I lived near by I'd go there on a regular basis just to support it, hope they do well
The Mercantile in Strathroy, Ontario Canada.
Arkansas has such a restaurant, too – The Honeycomb in Arkadelphia. Great food and great people!
Lisa, thanks for that tip. I live in Little Rock and was reading this wondering is we had anything like it nearby (because usually we don't). I'll be sure to keep this on my radar and consider a trip to Arkadelphia. Over the years, I've worked with a few people who went out of their way to employ physically or mentally challenged individuals. They were all awesome to work with & can teach you a lot about the things many of us take for granted.
Is there anything like this in the Los Angeles area?
Bless their hearts!!!!! If I lived near SI, I would definitely visit and have a meal. Wonderful idea and more power to them! Maybe they should invite Mitt and his family to eat there. But I bet he wouldn't.
Couldn't resist a lame brain political comment, could you? Well, bravo, thanks for ruining a nice story. I am leaning toward Obama, but almost want to vote for Romney just to spite people like you
gives me alot of hope for my daughter..
HOPE wont get it done!! Competitive education And Skills building are imperative. Comprehensive Job (and career) plans, a full set of tools and techniques for conducting an effective job search, interviewing skills, resume' and cover/follow-up writing, good stories of experience or skills acquisition, are ALL necessary to compete in US job market/s. Of course effective networking And strong substantive references are a Must!
Best wishes!! JTL
Mozzeria in San Francisco-owned by a deaf couple, staffed with deaf people,- including the chef and servers
Max's Positive Vibe Cafe in Richmond, VA has been doing the same thing for several years.
I have been there. Everyone is very pleasant and eager to please – and good food, too.
Amazing! Going to repost of Facebook.
This is just about the coolest thing I've ever read.
you've got a lot to learn about cool
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