Friendship Circle’s state-of-the-art restaurant provides on-the-job training, education
Sponsored by Friendship Circle
West Bloomfield is home to a fine dining experience that is transforming the lives of adults with special needs. Opened in 2016, Soul Café is dedicated to empowering adults through on-the-job training in this state-of-the-art kosher restaurant.
“The inspiration for Soul Café began between 2011 and 2013 when we started hearing from our Friendship Circle families who had been with us since we began in 1994,” says Friendship Circle Co-Founder Bassie Shemtov. “Some of our first buddies were now adults and were at home without any real purposeful things to do.”
Once again, Shemtov was inspired to create a space for these amazing souls to shine and connect with the community. The Friendship Circle team began looking for a space to create vocational training when they heard about cafés in other parts of the country that were being managed daily by individuals with special needs.
“Many adults with special needs are not able to get jobs,” Shemtov says. “But they want to give back and work. This idea has inspired not only us, but so many other companies are now seeing the amazing shift in the dynamic of their organizations by bringing in these incredible people to work with them.”
General Manager Shalom Shomer runs the café. It also includes Epic Kosher Catering/Milk & Honey. Supervision is by the Council of Orthodox Rabbis. Currently, the restaurant offers hands-on training to adults with special needs in areas of food prep, cooking, hosting and serving, and other skills. Chef Frank Turner heads up the Soul Café with more than 30 years of experience in culinary arts and teaching. The café offers a full kosher menu featuring gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches pizzas and pastas.
“This model is so inclusive,” Shemtov says. “Our staff with special needs work alongside our training staff to strengthen their skillsets and get them ready to work with customers.”
Soul Café has 25 full- and part-time employees; seven of whom are being trained and five who have graduated from the training program. Unique to Soul Café, two of its former team-members graduated the program and are now employed at other restaurants in the area.
Soul Café is located at the Friendship Circle’s Farber Center and was dedicated by Alene Landau, Graham Landau and Larry Jackier, trustees of the Louis and Edith Blumberg Foundation. The Farber Center is home to the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio as well as the Soul Café. Both provide a loving and inclusive environment for artistic self-expression, vocational training and employment opportunities.
Soul Cafe is also a part of the vision that was made possible by the Farber Family.
“In the year before he passed away, Bill Farber spent a lot of time in the café. In fact, his favorite dish was blintzes, and now we call them ‘Bill-intzes’ in his honor,” says Levi Shemtov, co-founder of Friendship Circle.
“I once approached Bill and I saw him really having nachas while looking at the full crowd in the café. He asked me if I knew why people kept coming back here to eat. Bill said, ‘The food is good. But, it’s not because of the food. It’s because eating here fills their Jewish heart.’”
To get involved, go to friendshipcircle.org/foreverfriendship
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