Puzzle Gourmet Café: Empowering the Differently Abled
As you fill your empty stomach with delicious comfort food, this family-owned Puzzle Gourmet Cafe Store will also widen your knowledge on mental health disabilities particularly on autism because this place was constructed to foster autism awareness.
The Canoy family opened this one-of-a-kind cafe to support and ensure the future of the twenty-two year old Jose, one of the siblings who was diagnosed with autism. Instead of putting him in a traditional school, they let him learn to count numbers, organize things and to learn life skills through managing the cafe. Aside from doing the duties in the cafe, Jose continued with speech therapy, learning how to cross the street, counting money, and talking to other people.
Since the cafe was considered as Jose’s place, his toys including the puzzles that he mastered to solve can be found in the cafe. They even have a pantry where imported and hard to find products are displayed. Ysabella, one of Jose’s sisters, with the SPED background said that Jose likes organizing things so that’s more of his corner.
“He likes organizing things, when we go to the grocery, if something is amiss, he will fix it. When I take him shopping he fixes the things that customers don’t return,” she said.
To reinforce firsthand experience of customers in learning about autism and other disabilities, differently abled individuals who are trained and employed in the cafe are the ones who serve food to them. Right now, they have twenty two kids with special needs, while seven are permanently employed. They have three neurotypical employees just to oversee and do the cooking but those with special needs are the ones who greet the customers and get their orders.
Ysabella said that in reality, our country, hiring people with special needs isn’t something that is quite accepted yet. However, by allowing individuals with special needs to work in an environment where they are not being isolated from other people will make people realize that PWDs can do usual things like us.
The tasks of the employees with special needs are patterned according to their interests. For those interested in helping in the kitchen, they allow them to do it. For those who possess social skills, they become the ones entertaining the customers. For those people in the kitchen, they have people to cook the pasta and the sauce but its one of the ‘special needs’ kids who would put it together. They know how to fry french fries, make bolognese pasta and waffles.
They have a normal menu but then the order sheet is done in such a way that the customers just check a sheet (readable and shade the column of half or whole). The employees with special needs will just read it back to them. This makes it easier for both the customer and the server.
It was definitely a great project of the Canoy siblings. They wanted to break the barrier between PWDs and neurotypical individuals. People are usually scared to approach these kids but then the owners want to deviate from that. These kids are the ones who accommodate and entertain the customers making it a way of building interaction. People will be able to have a glimpse of admirable qualities and talents that these kids possess and that they are also capable of what we can do. With that, customers will be informed and and will have a deep sense of understanding towards PWDs.
We feasted on their scrumptious food choices. We tried their Sushirito and Truffle pasta. Both were extremely good!
The cafe offers a very comforting and homey atmosphere. It was filled with a puzzle-themed decor, shelves full of pantry goods, inspiring quotes and a pledge wall. The mismatched furniture designed by Jose’s liking adds to the uniqueness of the place. You can also grab the chance to play board games. All of these make the place appear artistic and playful.
This whimsical café serves as an avenue in breaking the stigma and in ending discrimination to PWDs. The clear message of the advocacy of Puzzle Cafe is for us to accept differently abled individuals in the society and for us to embrace individuality and the idea that it is okay to be different. As of now, the challenge for them is to look for companies who are willing to help out or hire them after. “So hopefully we find more small businesses who would love to hire these kids,” Ysabella shared.
Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café