Food Fun & News
10 Amazing Restaurants That Hire People with Disabilities
These restaurants are making the world a more inclusive place.
You can support people and go out to eat, too
Courtesy Vinny and Bay's Coffee and Eatery
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. Here are 50 make ‘n’ take meals for anyone in need.
Hugs Cafe: McKinney, Texas
Courtesy Hugs Cafe
Ruth Thompson once had a vision to create a nonprofit 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 Café. 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 Café opened its doors in 2015. “Hugs Café 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.”
Chez Mélange: Redondo Beach, California
Courtesy Seed to Plate
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 Early Learning Academy 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. Here are 10 easy-to-grow vegetables that belong in your garden.
Howdy Homemade: Dallas, Texas
Courtesy Howdy Homemade
This is not your average ice cream scoop shop—it’s better! Not only does it have a five-star rating on Yelp, but 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,” he says.
Puzzles Bakery and Café: Schenectady, New York
Courtesy Puzzles Bakery and Café/Instagram
Puzzles Bakery and Café owner Sara Mae Pratt has only one sibling: a sister who is on the autism spectrum. When Pratt realized 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. Here are 30 simple acts of kindness you can do in two minutes or less.
SAMPLES: Longmont, Colorado
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.” The restaurant gets plenty of orders of fish and chips because one employee, Chris, loves it and recommends it, Reese adds. It goes to show that the employees at SAMPLES have a positive impact on every customer’s experience!
Vinny & Bay’s Coffee and Eatery: Panama City, Florida
Courtesy Vinny and Bay's Coffee and Eatery
“A lot of people plan their vacations around coming to this coffee shop,” says café owner Kara Rigby. Vinny & 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 & Bay’s and were able to transition into a regular workplace. Rigby has seen changes not only with each employee 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!
Mozzeria: San Francisco, California
Clare Cassidy Photograph/Courtesy Mozzeria
Mozzeria is not only committed to making traditional and imaginative pizzas, but 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 applied to a culinary school, she was rejected 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. Did you know Starbucks has a signing store, too?
Bloom Café: St. Louis, Missouri
Courtesy Bloom Café
Bloom Café wants to help solve one of the greatest barriers to independence for people with disabilities—the significant lack of employment opportunities. The café 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. “There is truly a place for everybody in the hospitality business—not every industry offers that,” says the café’s culinary director, Joe Wilson. Grab a salad, wrap, or sweet treat at Bloom Café and admire the employees as they power through their tasks with pride.
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee: Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina
Bitty and Beau's Coffee/via Facebook
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 Wilmington, North Carolina, shop was run by 19 employees with disabilities. Later that year, Beau’s birthday wish was to include his younger sister, Bitty, in the café’s name. His request led to the birth of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which has become so popular that it has opened a second shop! The company now employs 60 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Here are 24 stories about the kindness of strangers.
Sugar Plum Bakery: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Sugar Plum Bakery/via Facebook
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 more than 1,000 people with disabilities. Next, check out the 15 most heartwarming acts of kindness in 2018.