Char’s Cafe is in the business of giving back to the community.
Not only do the cafe’s four outlets design menus to suit their respective customers, they also provide life-changing hospitality training for people living with disabilities.
Char’s Cafe began at Broadmeadow as a cafeteria for Response Services Newcastle and soon opened to the public as well. A second site opened in Mayfield in 2016, then Toronto. The newly-opened Newcastle West cafe is also the production kitchen for Greenfood Services, who cater for local primary school canteens.
Alisha Waters, food service manager for Char’s Cafe and Greenfood Services, said Response Services Newcastle saw a gap in the disability training market and acted on it. Char’s philosophy is, she said, to deliver good coffee, good service and a seasonally-based menu while nurturing the talents of service users and enabling them to develop their hospitality skills.
“The trainees come to us as a service provider with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). They have employment or skill development goals in their NDIA plan that we work towards with them. The training in Char’s is now so popular there is a waiting list,” she said.
Char’s has had its fair share of success stories, too.
“Club Macquarie in Argenton has been very supportive in giving the guys a go and being flexible in work practices and arrangements. We have two young ladies who are now employed there. We also have a young man who works at the Happy Wombat who began at Char’s and another who is going for a trial at a bowling club.”
It would have been easy to create a one-size-fits-all menu for Char’s four sites however customers at each location were “very different and wanted different things”. Toronto, for example, has a healthy menu full of superfoods and high protein while Newcastle is “grab and go” for office workers.
And while the service can be slow at times, it always comes with a smile.
“We occasionally get some criticism from people not realising that we are a learning environment but as soon as they do, then it’s all positive. We receive lots of support from families and friends of the trainees, and lots of love on our social media pages as customers watch the trainees develop and grow and see what is happening behind the scenes,” Waters said.