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Germaine's Cafe Opens Doors for IDD Community

Posted by | Lori Irish Bauman

I’ve participated in planning this new initiative from the beginning.  I’m a former member of the board of directors of Catholic Charities and a recently retired lawyer.  Through the experiences of family members and friends who experience challenges entering the workforce I developed an interest in employment for people with disabilities.

In 2016 Executive Director Rick Birkel and I first brainstormed the idea of a social enterprise employing people experiencing IDD.  Since then, Rick has championed the project along with Director of Grants and Partnerships Vanessa Briseño.  We’ve organized an advisory committee that includes restaurateurs, social service providers, and economic development professionals.

The enterprise will be called Germaine’s Café, and it will serve delicious drinks and healthy meals in a comfortable and welcoming space.  By combining good food and drink with good works and a better community, Germaine’s Café will be more than just a place to gather and dine; it will be dedicated to training and employing individuals experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities (“IDD”).  Our tagline is “Everyone Belongs at the Table,” and our goal is to change the way communities view those experiencing disabilities.

Germaine’s Café is scheduled to open in 2020 in the Clark Family Center at 2740 SE Powell Boulevard in Portland – the location of Catholic Charities’ headquarters and many of its social service programs.  The café will be open weekdays for breakfast and lunch and will serve busy workers, visitors to Catholic Charities, and anyone looking for a fast, fresh and friendly meal at a reasonable price.  The café is expected to draw customers from Cleveland High School across the street and from the surrounding residential neighborhoods of Creston-Kenilworth, Richmond and Brooklyn.

The café will feature online ordering, free wifi, ample seating, and catering services.

Above all, Germaine’s Cafe is a human rights crusade disguised as a coffee shop.  The non-profit café will enable individuals experiencing IDD to develop marketable job skills. The training program will be structured to meet the needs of each trainee, and will support meaningful interaction with co-workers and the general public.

Germaine’s Café will have three objectives:  Offer a superior dining experience to our customers; provide the best skill-building experience to our trainees and employees; and show sustained positive outcomes to our financial supporters.

The café is named for St. Germaine Cousin, a 16th Century French shepherdess and the patron saint of people experiencing disabilities.   It’s the product of years of planning by Catholic Charities staff and volunteers, along with community partners contributing expertise in supporting people experiencing IDD.

A grant from Catholic Charities USA enabled us to obtain consulting services from Catalyst Kitchens, a Seattle nonprofit that provides technical assistance to food service job training programs.  Grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have supported planning for Germaine’s Café, including renovating an existing commercial kitchen and dining space.

Germaine’s Café will launch at a time when the employment landscape is changing for people experiencing IDD.  For decades, many individuals experiencing IDD were directed to jobs in sheltered, segregated workplaces.  Today the policy of the State of Oregon is to integrate individuals experiencing IDD into work settings where they can interact with non-disabled co-workers and members of the public.  Germaine’s Cafe will advance that goal by providing both a welcoming and supportive workplace and a training program where individuals will build skills and prepare for successful employment elsewhere.

While people experiencing IDD have much higher rates of unemployment than the general population, experience shows that with individualized support they are productive and valued employees.  Germaine’s Café aims to unleash the talents of people experiencing IDD.

We continue to welcome in-kind and monetary donations to advance start-up efforts, including furnishing the café’s kitchen and dining space.

UPDATE as of May 13, 2021: We have relaunched Germaine’s Café as Germaine’s Kitchen and Café. Learn more about our new culinary arts program and café here.