Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A restaurant run by people with special needs: Harvest Cafe


Over the weekend, I took Dave and the kids on a surprise outing. They knew we were going to have lunch someplace they'd never been to, but I didn't tell them anything about it. Off we headed to The Harvest Café on Staten Island, New York. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks—it's a unique, very special place.


We got there at a quiet time, perfect for Max

Our waiter, Drake, couldn't have been more attentive and charming. I ordered the Pretzel Crusted Chicken Club, Sabrina had Chicken Fingers, Max got mac and cheese (it wasn't actually on the menu, but they kindly improvised). It was all delicious.

Dave had the House Special Salad, a mix of veggies, cranberries, sunflower seeds, black olives, and feta cheese, topped with ahi tuna. 

The Pouring of the Ketchup

I first found out about the café on the CNN blog Eatocracy. When we were finished eating, I told Dave, Max, and Sabrina what it's about (well, besides Good Food): "People with special needs are trained here to get restaurant jobs, and then some end up working here, including our waiter," I said. "Oh, wow, he has special needs? And he is a waiter?" Sabrina asked. "Yes," I said. "Wow! Cool!" she said.

Harvest Café is owned and run by A Very Special Place (AVSP), a non-profit that provides programs and services for people with developmental disabilities.

Staff photo with a celeb visitor

The café is decorated with artwork made by people in AVSP programs.

Max was interested in taking home a souvenir: a bottle of ketchup. 

I'd wanted to visit to show the kids that people with special needs can have good jobs. I needed to see for myself, too. These kinds of gigs are rare (although this summer I read about Tim's Place, a restaurant in Albuquerque owned by a man with Down syndrome). In general, there's a high unemployment rate among people with disabilities, 13.5% last month according to the U.S. Department of Labor, compared to 7.3% for people without disabilities. But places like this give me hope. We need more, more, more of them.

You can check out the cafés weekly menus and hours on The Harvest Cafe Facebook page; they do parties, and catering, too. We'll be back, for sure.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking the world could use a Max 'n Cheese restaurant.

23 comments:

  1. We have a group of restaurants here named Max Something (Max Burger, Max Fish, Max Amore etc.). The burger one has a Max and Cheese meal. Let me know if you're up for a lunch/dinner date in Central CT. We can get our Max's together!

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  2. what a great idea! too bad we don't live closer because i'd love to take the kids there!

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  3. Love hearing about places like this. And love the name Max 'n Cheese for a restaurant! My son would eat there every day.

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    1. I'll put you on our mailing list. ;)

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  4. Chilmark Chocolates on Martha's Vineyard has the best chocolates I've ever eaten--all made and sold by a (supervised) staff of folks with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Some staffers are connected with Camp Jabberwocky, a residential vacation camp for kids and adults with CP. You might enjoy the Jabberwocky website--take a look!

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    1. Tasty chocolates made by people w/disabilities = winning combo, if ever there was one.

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    2. Can you post the website please?

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    3. Bassie, they don't seem to have a website, check the Facebook page.

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  5. The next time you're on Staten Island, you might want to check out Staten Island Children's Museum. Besides being a wonderful place to bring kids, their cafeteria also employs adults with challenges.

    here's a relevant article: http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/10/dedicated_employee_earns_award.html

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    1. OH! We've been to that museum and love it, but not to the cafeteria. Will check it out next time I'm there.

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  6. Sounds like such a wonderful place. xo

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  7. I've just applied to work in a similar cafe in the UK!

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  8. Loved hearing about this...thanks for sharing! (wish we lived closer to visit it though) =)

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  9. You v Ann Coulter!!!! Go Ellen Go! So proud of you. Xoxo. Annie

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  10. My uncle with special needs worked in a factory in Philly his whole life cleaning animals. It gave him a wonderful pension to live on later in life and it gave his life meaning. He lived with his parents until they died, but he was able to work and drive on his own. I think the concept of this cafe is wonderful and I hope that it spawns many more around the country.

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  11. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

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  12. There's an amazing non profit in Northeast Ohio that does something similar -- they operate a cafe and a doggie day care that trains and employs people with special needs, as well as offering educational programs, etc. It is such a neat place! Even though it's nowhere near you, thought you might be interested in checking out the website: http://www.hattielarlham.org/

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    1. LOVE that. Thanks for sharing it, Heidi.

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  13. Actually Ellen, the number is 70% & that number has remained constant since Clinton was in office. I'm to young to really remember life before Clinton, so possibly longer. 70% of disabled adults that can & want to work (everyone who wants to work CAN do something, honestly) ages 16-65 are unemployed. & that's not even counting all the people like myself that are severly underemployed. I work just 12hrs/wk making $8/hr. I don't know where you got your statistic from, but perhaps it is not looking at all the adults sitting at home on SSI watching TV that really can & want to work, but don't just because people are scared to take a chance & be a little creative.

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  14. I was watching an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network, and one of the chefs that competed in this episode mentioned he was the executive chef at this place. I live on the west coast of Canada, but otherwise I would love to visit this place.
    I have a mild form of Neurofibromatosis. Long story short, one of the ways it affects me is it makes me process stuff slower than a lot of people. I just recently finished a free 8 week course at "H.A.V.E. Cafe" in Vancouver that is specifically for people with any kind of barrier to employment. Whether it's a physical or mental disability, someone facing homelessness or poverty, someone that just got out of jail, etc. It's so awesome to see similar places around the world that do the same thing. :)

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Thanks for sharing!