Paraquad is one of the largest organizations serving people with disabilities in St. Louis. People with disabilities face harsh inequalities and barriers to independent living, education and employment. In fact, adults with disabilities are employed at half the rate of those without disabilities, and they experience twice the rate of poverty. Paraquad works to transform the community and empower individuals with disabilities to live and work independently.
About The Bloom Café
The Bloom Café, Paraquad’s social enterprise café, will provide job training for people with disabilities. The program is divided into three stages.
First, students will receive formal culinary instruction in a training kitchen. Students will build marketable skills and some will acquire ServSafe certification. The curriculum will incorporate soft skills training such as customer service, hygiene, time management, problem solving and communication.
Students will progress at their own pace, spending more time on modules where they need extra support. The program will have stacking credentials, allowing students to pursue their desired skillset.
Some students will graduate after a core curriculum that includes soft skills, dishwashing and bussing tables; while others will progress to knife skills, food safety and kitchen safety training; and others will pursue specializations such as inventory and receiving, barista training, cooking, baking or management.
From the training program, students will progress to a paid three- to six-month internship in the café, where they will hone skills and build work credentials before entering the workforce.
Experienced interns will mentor new interns, helping them adjust to the fast pace of a commercial kitchen. The café’s staff will provide on-the-job training and support, control food quality and observe each intern’s progress.
When interns achieve job readiness, they will work with employment specialists for placement. The specialist will provide support in writing a resume, looking for a job, and preparing for interviews. During this phase, job seekers will also receive financial literacy training. After placement, specialists will maintain contact with graduates and provide support services as needed.
In the first year, Paraquad will intake one training class of 8-12 students each semester, totaling about 30 people served. After the pilot year, we expect to expand the number of students served by offering multiple classes per day.
Why The Bloom Café is Important
A quarter of a century after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act, people with disabilities continue to face stark inequalities in education, employment and income. Youth encounter discrimination in the education system; low expectations from parents, teachers and other care providers; and a lack of supports as they transition to adulthood.
As a result, only 40% of youth with disabilities are employed two years after high school, compared to 60% of youth without disabilities. Rather than the disparity shrinking with age, it becomes more acute. Among adults with disabilities, just 34% are employed compared to 77% of adults without disabilities -- and adults with disabilities experience twice the rate of poverty.
People with disabilities face many barriers to employment, including lack of education and training, lack of transportation, the need for job accommodations and actual or perceived difficulty performing job duties due to a disability.
Most people with disabilities want to work, but they lack the experience and support to find a job. Those who do seek employment encounter misconceptions and prejudice among employers. Often, employers believe that workers with disabilities are less productive and more expensive to employ than people without disabilities, despite evidence indicating workers with disabilities stay with companies longer, have lower rates of absenteeism and comparable productivity.
Employer attitudes are not the only barrier to employment for job seekers with disabilities. Many people with disabilities have limited or no work experience or training. Among people ages 16 to 24, only 21% have worked before, and only 7% of adults with disabilities have received job training or career assistance.
When people with disabilities are excluded from an integrated workforce, the entire community suffers. Viewed purely through a fiscal lens, the economy would benefit from an additional 13 million people earning and spending a living wage. Moreover, people with disabilities represent 20% of government entitlement spending.
On a per-capita basis, public healthcare expenditures for people with disabilities are over four times higher than those for people without disabilities. Higher employment rates would raise income levels, lead to better health, and lower government spending.
Menu and Hours
The Bloom Café will be open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
From a filling breakast burrito or flaky, buttery croissant to help jump start your day to a nutritious salad, sandwich or soup for lunch, there will be something for everyone. And of course we'll feature some of the best coffee and gelato in St. Louis!
The final menu will be developed by our culinary director and chef.
Risks and challenges
Paraquad has more than 30 years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities who are seeking employment. Paraquad will capitalize on the expertise of our community partners and best practices from the large body of research on vocational training for people with developmental disabilities to design our training program.
The curriculum will have a flexible structure designed to respond to the individual needs of each student. The Bloom Café staff will adopt a process of continuous quality improvement to adapt the program to the expressed and observed needs of program participants in the future.
Paraquad is also taking steps to become familiar with the pain points of employers in the food service industry. Over the past year, Paraquad has reached out to chefs, restaurant owners, food vendors and other industry experts to solicit their input. By identifying employers’ needs and goals, Paraquad can calibrate the training program to prepare graduates to meet the needs of employers in the food industry.
To this end, Paraquad hosted the first meeting of an advisory committee for The Bloom Café in late July. This group of food industry experts will offer guidance and practical support, help Paraquad find job placement opportunities for graduates and serve as ambassadors to the community to help raise the profile of The Bloom Café and sustain the program in the future.
Flexibility, innovation and strong community relationships are essential to improving employment outcomes. By designing a flexible training program that can be modified to the unique skillsets of our trainees and by offering real work experience in a supportive setting, we are reducing barriers to employment. Fostering relationships with community partners and establishing an advisory committee of professionals in the restaurant industry gives us the opportunity to identify the specific needs of the industry while garnering support for our mission and breaking down attitudinal barriers about people with disabilities.
Paraquad has received many honors and awards for our work serving people with disabilities:
2011 - Focus St. Louis What’s Right with the Region Award;
2012 - National Council on Independent Living Diversity Committee Award for our Deaf Way Interpreting Program;
2015 - Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance Advocate of the Year;
2017 - Washington University Program in Occupational Therapy Partner of the Year.
We are also proud of the impact we have every day: we serve more than 3,000 people with disabilities each year through more than 20 programs and services.
The café will be supported by Paraquad’s employment program, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, which offers job placement, retention and support.
As a social enterprise, The Bloom Café will eventually grow to generate revenue to support Paraquad’s programs and services. Occupying existing space owned by Paraquad and sharing Paraquad administrative staff, The Bloom Café will benefit from reduced overhead costs.
The main source of revenue will be food and beverage sales. After the first year, contracts with government funders for vocational services will provide another significant portion of revenue. Other sources of support will include tuition for the training program, rental fees for the private dining room in the café, and community support.
Fresh, simple food, ample seating, and reasonable prices will attract a broad audience. With approximately 200 staff and tenants working in Paraquad’s building, The Bloom Café will have a natural customer base. We plan to attract other customers through amenities such as high-speed internet, a landscaped patio, online ordering and curbside delivery.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)