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On Thursday, the COCO Cafe in Cedar reached a major birthday milestone, celebrating 10 years of freshly made doughnuts, crispy hash browns and a staff unlike any other.
“So at COCO Cafe we offer employment, training and socialization opportunities for people who have diverse abilities,” said Sydni Romine, director of community engagement for the COCO Cafe.
Over half of the 42 employees live with some form of disability.
“I do dishwashing food prep, barista, cashier, running food, basically everything,” said Robert Welbourne, an employee for the past six years. “I love the environment, I love my team, I love everything about it…. They’re basically like family.”
A family that’s grown over the years, adding a catering business in 2013 and a commercial kitchen just two years ago. And even during the dark times of COVID, the smiles never faded.
“Over the last year during the pandemic we’ve obviously been through a bit of a shift,” said Romine. “What we’ve done is partnered with other organizations in the community and helped supervise food security for people who are experiencing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The cafe helped provide nearly 6,000 free meals to those in need in the greater Nanaimo community — feeding the homeless, struggling families and remote indigenous communities as far north as Alert Bay.
“It’s been a really incredible experience for, I think, all of us,” said Romine.
Whether it’s making a batch of banana bread or earning that first paycheck, the employees are taking away newfound skills and confidence that’ll last a lifetime.
“You couldn’t ask for a better place to work,” said Welbourne.
“I think we all take a huge sense of pride in the work that’s being done here,” said Romine.
The COCO Cafe has set-up a charitable fund to help support those struggling in greater Nanaimo. For more information, click here.