When we made our 3rd trip to the Netherlands in 2013, we brought my daughter K with us. A scenic walk down the Oudegracht (Old Canal) in Utrecht led us to this lovely cafe and store featuring hand crafted items.
We decided to stop in for a traditional Dutch afternoon treat – coffee and appeltaart (apple pie). As we waited for a server, K leaned over and said,
“Mom. I think that person may have a disability. They must hire people with disabilities here.”
As we looked around, we realized that with the exception of one manager, all of the people working there had various disabilities. We had stumbled upon ZiZo, a cafe/restaurant, store and atelier operated by the non-profit Reinaerde. Reinaerde supports people with disabilities at every stage of life by helping them develop their own strengths. The services range from temporary guidance to long-term care and treatment.
ZiZo has been employing people with disabilities in this safe environment right in the city center of Utrecht for over 20 years. In the cafe, the employees work according to their strengths, doing everything from cooking and baking to ordering, serving and checking orders. In the atelier, they make all kinds of original gift items, such as cards of hand-painted fabric cloth, beautiful home accessories and hand-crafted ceramics, using recycled materials whenever possible.
We placed our order with a friendly employee using a picture board to take down our selections. The cafe was jam-packed with people, as was the adjacent store. When we finished our coffee, I couldn’t help but pick up a couple of mugs featuring designs created by employees in the atelier behind the store.
As we were leaving, K said, “Couldn’t you see B working there? He would love to be a barista, and he could use some of his drawings as a basis for some of the items sold in the shop. How amazing would that be. I’ve never seen anything like that for people like B in the US”
After our move to the Netherlands in 2014, I spotted this cafe, Brownies & downieS.
According to the Brownies & downieS Cape Town website:
Brownies & downieS started in 2010 in Veghel, the Netherlands, because of an idea that two friends had. The one a chef (Teun Horck) the other working at a special needs school (Thijs Swinkels). They realised over a time that not many people with disabilities were employed in the hospitality sector, and decided to change this. Using a combination of high quality food and staff members with an intellectual disability in their employ, they created a relatively new concept in the Netherlands and surrounding European countries. Since those early days, they have grown by close to 30 stores in the Netherlands.
“What about the name,” you might ask? Isn’t it offensive to talk about “Downies”? In a review of Brownies & downieS by Nikita Buxton for Eat Out, owner and head social worker of the Cape Town location, Wendy Vermeulen explains:
[T]he name was created by parents in the Netherlands who are parents of young adults with down syndrome. Before we took it over to South Africa, we talked to a lot of parents at the Down Syndrome Association Western Cape, and they are fine with the name. They say it is not about the name, it is about the fact that there is finally a place where they are accepted for who they are and where they can work.
It makes me happy to think of B working in a safe, supportive environment like ZiZo where he could engage in two of his favorite activities, working with food and creating art. Perhaps when B finishes school next year, this is exactly where he will be.