10 Amazing Restaurants That Hire People with Disabilities
See how restaurants that hire people with disabilities are making the world a more inclusive place.
It’s easy to help by cooking the right make ‘n’ take food for those who need a hand. You can support people when you go out to eat, too! Look for restaurants that hire people with disabilities. Each bakery, café and restaurant below has a wonderful and heartwarming story.
Ruth Thompson once had a vision to create a non-profit café that would be run and operated primarily by adults with special needs. Fast-forward to today—Thompson is enhancing the lives of adults with special needs through training and employment at Hugs Cafe. Prior to founding Hugs, Thompson worked within the special needs community. “In 2012, when getting ready to retire, I had a dream two nights in a row of a restaurant that employed adults with special needs doing every job there is,” she says.
With hard work, a strong passion and an amazing team, Hugs Cafe opened its doors in 2015. “Hugs Cafe is now so much more than a job to our 23 teammates,” Thompson says. “We have created meaningful employment and an incredible sense of community within our four walls.”
Redondo Beach, California
The fresh ingredients at Chez Mélange are thanks to Seed to Plate—a sustainable garden where special-needs students grow produce for the restaurant. The students at Seed to Plate work on transplanting, building greenhouses and selling veggies at the monthly farmer’s market (located at Valmonte Elementary School in Palos Verdes).
Nancy Lemargie, the garden’s manager, horticulturist and teacher, says that “working in the garden calmed the students and taught them to take care of something.” She adds that garden work is a great activity for lower functioning students who have a hard time standing still. “The idea is for our students to get out there and work using their hands,” says Lemargie.
This is not your average ice cream scoop shop—it’s better! Not only does it have a 5-star rating on Yelp, Howdy Homemade is run by individuals with Down syndrome and autism. Tom Landis, the founder of Howdy Homemade, says, “we are trying to set the example of shattering the myth of hiring people with special needs.” He believes that a restaurant with non-disabled employees will have higher employee turnover and lower-quality customer service.
“Employing individuals with disabilities may take a little longer to train, but you have them for a long time,” says Landis. He believes that an ice cream shop is the perfect place for disabled individuals to learn and grow because you’re not looking for speed, but rather friendliness. “My hope is that everybody steals my idea.”
Puzzles Bakery and Café
Schenectady, New York
Puzzles Bakery and Café owner Sara Mae Pratt has only one sibling—a sister who is on the autism spectrum. When Pratt realized that there weren’t jobs for her sister, she made it her mission to find a way for people with special needs to find work. This is where the opening of Puzzles Bakery and Café comes into play. In fact, the name Puzzles is a symbol for the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum.
“Food is great because it’s very forgiving. You can always toss around food and try it again,” says Pratt. “It can also be repetitive, which is fantastic for people with disabilities.” Puzzles serves a variety of foods from fresh baked goods to soups and sandwiches.
SAMPLES is a restaurant that provides real-world job experiences and long-term employment for individuals with disabilities. Owners Carmen and Mark Sample believe that everyone in this world deserves an opportunity to do something they’re passionate about. SAMPLES employees all get paid equal wages, with or without a disability. “I love equal pay for equal work,” says Chief of Staff Rachel Reese. “We have fantastic workers, all of which are dedicated to the stable opportunities we provide.”
“People often order the fish and chips because Chris (an employee) suggests it based on his love of the dish,” Reese adds. It goes to show that the employees at SAMPLES have a positive impact on every customer’s experience!
Vinny and Bay’s Coffee and Eatery
Panama City, Florida
“A lot of people plan their vacations around coming to this coffee shop,” says café owner Kara Rigby. Vinny and Bay’s Coffee and Eatery was established “so that Baylee had a place to work,” Rigby adds. Baylee is Rigby’s daughter’s friend who has a disability. The coffee shop’s goal is to become a training spot for individuals like Baylee. Some workers have even started at Vinny and Bay’s and were able to transition into a regular workplace. Rigby has seen changes not only with each individual but also with customers. Rigby says that her employees “have a whole lot more abilities than disabilities. They love unconditionally and it changes the whole environment and business.”
Rigby believes that incorporating even just one or two disabled individuals into a business can change the whole atmosphere—for the better!
San Francisco, California
Mozzeria is not only committed to making traditional and imaginative pizzas, they are also committed to hiring Deaf people. Co-founder Melody Stein stands by the belief that employing an all-Deaf team is one of the best decisions the restaurant has made. “We understand how hard it is for Deaf people to find jobs—I’ve been in their shoes.” Melody and her husband Russ, who started Mozzeria together, are both Deaf.
When Melody Stein applied to a culinary school, she was not admitted simply because she was Deaf. “I felt so disappointed that they didn’t even give me a chance,” she says. “I refused to give up though, so I taught myself how to cook at home, and took pizza- and pasta-making classes in Italy.” Mozzeria depends on Deaf individuals to take orders and cook its scrumptious pizzas, and even create the artwork on the walls.
St. Louis, Missouri
Bloom Café wants to help solve one of the greatest barriers to independence for people with disabilities—the significant lack of employment opportunities. The cafe offers a three-step curriculum for disabled individuals: a 12-week skills-based training program, a paid internship at Bloom Café or a partner employer and help with job placement.
The café’s Culinary Director Joe Wilson believes that “there is truly a place for everybody in the hospitality business, not every industry offers that.” Grab a salad, wrap or a sweet treat at Bloom Café and admire the employees as they power through their tasks with pride.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee
Wilmington and Charleston, North Carolina
Bitty and Beau are two of Amy Wright’s four children—the two that have Down syndrome. Wright says she feels like the luckiest person on the planet because of her kids. In January 2016, she decided to further her advocacy for the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by opening a coffee shop.
Beau’s Coffee was the original name and it wasn’t your average coffee shop. The original shop was run by 19 employees with disabilities. Later that year, Beau’s birthday wish was to include his younger sister, Bitty, in the cafe’s name. This led to the birth of Bitty and Beau’s Coffee which has become so popular it has opened a second shop! The company now employs 60 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Sugar Plum Bakery
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Head to Sugar Plum Bakery to find a delectable carrot cake and see people with disabilities successfully working alongside non-disabled workers. Sugar Plum has been promoting the integration of adults with developmental disabilities by providing training and employment opportunities since 1987. Whether they’re scooping cookies or making cupcakes, Sugar Plum’s employees are the backbone of the bakery.
Back in ’87, the bakery’s training program had four individuals; since then, the bakery has provided training and employment to over 1,000 people with disabilities.