PICS: This unique coffee shop is fighting prejudice one cup at a time
It’s an eatery with an experience like no other, with their intellectually disabled staff always on the ball.
Just two months ago a beautiful love story began here when Morgen Briel, who has Down syndrome, and Devan Roux, who has autism, locked eyes during their training.
Briel made the bold move and asked Roux out and, just like that, they became known as the first Brownies & downieS couple.
Wendy Vermeulen, the founder of Brownies & downieS SA, said the love story was not common as it was more common to see people with the same disability get together.
“This is just because they would understand their disabilities more,” she said.
The couple enjoy working with people and their favourite thing at the eatery is the coffee.
Briel loves to serve the coffee and Roux loves to make the coffee and one day hopes to become a barista.
Brownies & downieS is a non-profit training eatery for people with intellectual disabilities.
It has 22 special-needs staff who serve, make coffee and work in the scullery. Once they have successfully completed their training, they can pursue more mainstream career opportunities.
So far nine trainees have been placed in various jobs at Spar, Builders Warehouse and, recently, Pick n Pay.
“I don’t want to just get them placed for BEE reasons because then they are just a number. I want them to get placed in a good environment because they are just like us,” said Vermeulen.
“They just want to be part of society and feel like they matter. They want to be able to sustain themselves.
“Most people who have these disabilities are good at working with their hands even though they don’t have a matric which most companies require.
“We have people with Down syndrome, autism, foetal alcohol syndrome and learning disabilities.”
She said the stigma attached to people is still strong and needs to be broken.
“People still believe if you have one of these disabilities you are the devil, it’s witchcraft or your forefathers did something wrong. This is not true.”
Customer Valter Sebastiao from Angola said he and his partner hadn’t noticed when they walked in that the staff had intellectual disabilities, because as soon as they walked in the shop felt inviting and friendly.
“This is a good environment. This idea, to help these people with disabilities, is great. They also need jobs and it’s good to see them happy and working. The food and coffee are good here,” Sebastiao said.
Head chef Shereen Abrahams said her experience with Brownies & downieS began a year-and-a-half ago when she was a volunteer. Now she works their full time and helps train staff.
“When I first came into work here my heart went out to these kids.
“I understand, my sister has a child with Down syndrome and my other sister has a child who is deaf, so when I got here I just clicked with the kids,” Abrahams said.
Wade Schultz, managing director of Brownies & downieS, wants the eatery to be a place to enjoy the food and the service and not for people to come once and pat themselves on the back to show they supported the staff.
“We want people to come back because our food and the service are good,” Schultz said.