Bay Area Ada’s Café Continues To Raise Employees With Disabilities

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) – It’s another typical day in Palo Alto. Get your favorite coffee, cookie or sandwich.

But this is not your typical cafe. Behind the mask and the smile hides someone unique. Someone with a disability.

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, here’s a look at Ada’s Café, a Bay Area nonprofit that continues to elevate people with disabilities.

It all started with a vision for Kathleen Foley-Hughes, wife and mother of four, and her team of family and friends.

“Our mission is to hire adults with disabilities to train and raise them,” said Kathleen Hughes, Founder and Owner of Ada’s Coffee. “We have people on our staff who have Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury.”

“I have worked here at Ada’s Cafe for almost seven years,” said Todd Cerf.

“We knew when Todd was very little we knew he had issues but we didn’t know what they were,” said Emmylou Cerf, mother of Ada employee Todd Cerf. “Finally, when he was 12, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.”

“I have Asperger’s Syndrome as a handicap,” Todd said.

“When Todd was diagnosed we took him to a famous place, they said ‘we’re sorry to tell you, but your son is not going to be developing very well. In fact, the best thing he could do would be folding pizza boxes, ”said Dave Cerf, Todd’s dad. “Now, as parents, that’s probably the hardest thing to hear.”

“I learned how to make drinks on the espresso machine… and I’m learning how to make more sandwiches,” Todd said. “My favorite thing to do is make people smile, have fun with them when they order.”

“So the goal of opening up Ada was to provide them with a place where they could belong, a safe place where they could learn, grow and develop their professional skills,” said Kathleen.

In 2020, 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kathleen opened Ada’s Cafe in Palo Alto in 2014. With a background in catering and small business, the idea to hire and train people came after the success of opening two volunteer cafes as professional courses. for students and volunteers of the Palo Alto Unified School District. . First at Terman Middle School (now Ellen Fletcher Middle School) and Henry M. Gunn High School.

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“These programs were so successful that we found a job for everyone who wanted to get involved. We got the students involved. It was such a winning combination that we thought it would be great to present it to the public.

Her son, Charlie, was enrolled in primary school vocational classes. He is part of a pair of twins (with his brother Peter). Charlie grew up with a disability (a brain injury caused by prematurity and weighed 1 1/2 pounds at birth).

“(The idea of ​​vocational courses) started when I observed when my son (Charlie) was in the school system 20 years ago,” said Kathleen. “I know things have changed in the school system. But at that time, there was no program or program on campus for students (with disabilities) to develop a professional skill. Whether it was cooking, functional math, so we were able to work on all of these things on a school campus. “

“I wanted to help my son Charlie of course, but also his peers, his friends, the people he had studied with since he was five.”

She added: “When you are a disabled person, you are to some extent marginalized. Even with the best of intentions. So opening a café on a school campus gave them a real purpose, a place to belong. And because we saw how successful it was on a school campus, we understood the community of Palo Alto and that the people here would like to support a business where they could get really good quality food, but also to do something meaningful and valuable with their money. “

Charlie Foley-Hughes has worked with Ada’s Cafe since it opened. He does it all, he says. “I manage the cash register. I make coffee. I make sandwiches. I tell customers about our menu. And I tell them we have the best coffee in the world” (laughs). “My favorite thing to do is manage the fund. I can interact with customers. “

In 2018, Ada’s Café faced a 60% rent increase. And in 2020, like many businesses in the Bay Area and across the country, coffee was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. It lost 50% of its turnover. An auction was organized by one of Kathleen’s friends. He saved the coffee.

Kathleen said there are two reasons she named her non-profit Ada’s Café.

“We started Ada’s with the name Ada’s Cafe because a friend in my neighborhood had a grandmother named Ada. And Grandma Ada was kind and kind to everyone. She baked cookies and was very loving. . ” She also named it after the Americans with Disabilities Act which was enacted into federal law by the late President George HW Bush on July 26, 1990.

Kris Frekol, his favorite thing to do is take orders. Frekol, who has worked at Ada for seven years, says she also does the dishes, cleans tables, makes coffee and sandwiches. She said this job had made her happy. “I like to come to work.

Jeremy Teter, who we saw cleaning tables and chairs when we got to Ada’s, has the same chores as Charlie and Kris. But after taking out the trash and recycling with Kris one afternoon, he was excited to tell us about the Ada’s Cafe truck. “We deliver sandwiches and pastries to the cafe and for catering.”

“This will ensure that people with disabilities receive the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard,” he said at a White House press conference.

“It was very inclusive,” said Guy Schvartzbard, who has worked at Ada’s Café for four years. Schvartzbard, who is from Israel and has no disabilities, remembers passing through Ada’s Café and applying for a job there.

RELATED: Palo Alto Cafe That Employs People With Disabilities Holds Auction To Stay In Business

“I walked around. I saw this cafe and I need a job. I’m a barista and asked if they were hiring.” He said he got an interview and learned about the cafe’s mission. “It was about hiring and training people with disabilities. I felt really good about that.” He said the biggest misconception about people with disabilities is that they can’t work. “Yes they can.”

For Jasmine Han, it was a special day when visiting ABC7. “Today is my first day,” she said.

Han says she learned a lot of new things on day one, including greeting people. “I think it’s a great work experience for people with disabilities … I can’t wait to meet new people.”

“When I order, when I ask questions, they are friendly, they know their food well,” says Judy Lochead, a long-time customer. “I wish there were more Ada.”

“We’ve seen him grow in so many ways,” said Dave Cerf, Todd’s dad. He wants him and Emmylou to be able to see the people who gave (Todd) the (Asperger’s) diagnosis and show how much he’s grown with all the skills he’s learned working at Ada’s Cafe. “Being with Ada made all the difference in the world for him.”

Emmylou is grateful to Kathleen for the positive impact Ada’s Café has had on Todd’s life and the rest of the staff. “Not only can you get a job where you can learn skills, but it’s in a safe environment. It gives people the opportunity to live their full potential.”

Dave says some people on the autism spectrum might find it hard to make eye contact with people. “Todd looks people in the eye now. And communicates well.”

“No matter your disability, you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t define who you are,” Todd said.

Kathleen hopes Ada’s Café will continue to operate with the continued support of the community. “If you can have a nice cup of coffee here and make sure that a disabled person has a job, that’s a win for everyone,” she said.

If you want to know more about Ada’s Café, click here.

You can watch the full story in the video player above

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