Those with mental and intellectual disabilities face a number of unique challenges working in service industries. Jumping into life in restaurant or hospitality industry, for instance, is tough for anyone - learning to handle customer services as well as the specialized tasks involved in preparing food, waiting on tables, or working a barista bar is a daunting and exhausting task. Adding in mental or intellectual disabilities to the mix makes it a whole different ball game.
With its intentionally low-key opening actually taking place almost three months ago, Lunch Bell Bistro is hoping to be a stepping stone and safe environment where adults with mental and intellectual disabilities can acquire skills in food preparation, culinary arts, customer service, and management at a pace fitting their unique challenges.
As manager and head chef Josh Marantz explains, the goal of the 20-week program is to eventually help the students move on and find work in restaurants across the city, with extra training in hand to help them join the real world. Learning in the areas of food safety, knife handling, and food preparation takes place in the back, followed by practice in customer service at the front. Once the students have completed the program, Lunch Bell will work with them to find a placement at a restaurant or eatery somewhere in the city. While there are only three students at the moment, Marantz says the plan is to eventually have six.
But this should by no means indicate that Lunch Bell isn't a food destination - Marantz says business has been going incredibly well, with its location just south of Higgins on Main street receiving a barrage of visitors from across downtown every day.
And while he says the whole menu has seen lots of love, one sandwich stands out among the rest for its popularity with customers - the fresh basil roasted chicken baguette.
How could you possibly say no to such an enticingly tasty offering when it comes standard with a great cause on the side? The answer is simple - you can't. Check out Lunch Bell at 662 Main inside the Bell Hotel, or online at lunchbellbistro.ca
Lunch Bell Bistro is an initiative and program of Changes, a local non-profit that responds to the need for individualized and person-centered services for adults requiring support in their homes and communities
This morning I caught up with Josh Marantz, general manager of Lunch Bell Bistro, just before opening time at 10am, and he elaborated more on what Lunch Bell is and how things have gone since opening shop.