WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | AFTER 26 DEPOT CAFE
Delicious Dining for a Cause
As restaurants continue navigating the ups and downs of COVID-19 regulations, employees at the After 26 Depot Café remain steadfast in their eagerness to serve great food with friendly service while accomplishing their second important mission: providing meaningful employment to adults with special needs.
At the nonprofit restaurant in Cadillac, project workers with Down Syndrome, autism, developmental disabilities, or cognitive impairments, perform various jobs such as cleaning, greeting customers, busing tables, and more.
“Their jobs really do give them a sense of purpose, and it’s so wonderful to help them experience this,” stated general manager Kelly Hondorp. “The most rewarding thing I have experienced is when the project workers arrive at work with the most amazing smiles on their faces. The smiles are huge and heartwarming!”
“During the COVID-19 closure, they called regularly to ask when they could return, and it was devastating not to be able to answer that question,” she continued. “They genuinely wanted to be at work!”
The restaurant is a product of the After 26 Project, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation. The name is tied to their mission: Until they turn 26, adults with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairments receive schooling and programming from the State of Michigan. After turning 18, they receive seven additional years of school/programming intended to help prepare them for life in the “outside world.”
But very few are well trained for a job, and their employment options are limited. Disabled workers require extra attention for which private employers may not be able or willing to pay. The future can be daunting for individuals as well as their families. But adults with disabilities can perform effectively in the workplace. Part of the mission is to inform and educate the public that developmentally disabled adults have the aptitude and the ability to perform in the workplace when given a chance.
Nearly 20 project workers are employed at the Depot, along with a manager, four cooks, three servers, and two job coaches. The coaches do job training and help the project workers stay focused on what they are supposed to do. Hondorp manages daily operations, and the Depot Café is overseen by a volunteer board of directors.
This community-wide effort to provide jobs began in 2007 with a group inspired by a Chesaning restaurant called the Junction of Hope. In the summer of 2008, the After 26 Project obtained tax-exempt status, and the Depot Café opened five years later in the historic Ann Arbor Railroad building in downtown Cadillac. Originally constructed in 1911, the building – which was renovated by the nonprofit – has historic charm and an outdoor patio with seating and a magnificent view of Lake Cadillac.
“We hope to continue our mission of providing meaningful employment to adults with special needs. We hope to continue to build our project and provide Cadillac with a restaurant where the food is great, the service is friendly, the atmosphere is classy, and the mission is vital,” Hondorp stated.
The After 26 Project
127 West Cass Street, Cadillac MI 49601
(231) 468-3526 l After26Project.org