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Happy People Make Happy Food

Darlene is in the kitchen of Little Sprout Café, putting together her favourite menu item. The Burrata BLT begins with crispy bacon, fresh tomato, and is finished with house-made burrata, baby spinach, micro-basil and nasturtium, and served on a sourdough baguette.

“Not your average BLT,” Darlene says. “The burrata is amazing.”

The Burrata BLT is not your average BLT!

As a Team Member, Darlene does a variety of tasks including food prep, cooking, and doing dishes. She enjoys food prep the most; the process of following a recipe, getting the ingredients right, and putting it together to create a finished product that people will love. As she grows into this role, she is also growing in confidence. It’s a far cry from where she was a year ago.

Like so many of us, Darlene has found the pandemic to be a challenge. Darlene lives with depression and the isolation brought on by the initial lock-down last spring was devastating. She was unable to hug her daughter, who works with the public. She couldn’t connect to Vicky, manager of Supported Independent Living (SIL) and Darlene’s mental health worker at Communitas. It was a real struggle.

But when Communitas launched a new, online service called Zoombaya, offering a variety of classes and opportunities for people to connect, things began to change.

“What a godsend that was,” Darlene exclaims. “I met wonderful people, I loved the different classes they offered. It really helped me cope with my mental health and the isolation.”

Ta-da! Vicky celebrates Darlene’s accomplishments

Vicky has seen the growth in Darlene over the course of the year and she believes that Darlene’s heart to connect with others is what drives her. She saw how the isolation had had a negative impact on Darlene’s mental health but also saw how Zoombaya helped make those connections she was craving.

“She jumped in and attended any session that she could, always welcoming and encouraging others,” Vicky says. “And I think that helped reignite her passion for connecting and supporting people. She’s been looking for a way to ‘give back’ and help the way she’s been helped. When Little Sprout came along, I knew she’d be perfect for it.”

Little Sprout Café is the latest social enterprise from Communitas. The focus is on fresh, locally sourced ingredients with micro-greens grown in urban cultivators right in the restaurant. The café is also an inclusive employer, hiring people of all abilities for various jobs and encompassing a training program to prepare people for work in the restaurant industry.

While Darlene credits Vicky’s support in helping her land the job, she did come with restaurant experience, a definite asset. She was both “terrified and excited” when she was offered the position, wondering if she would have what it takes to do the work.

“I was pretty nervous but the people here are fantastic,” she says. “Jordan is an amazing manager, I’ve never worked for anyone like him. He is so positive and encouraging, which just makes you want to do better and work harder.”

Chef Jordan (left) and Nick, the cafe’s cook. Chef Jordan values the inclusive hiring component of Little Sprout Cafe

Chef Jordan says it has been amazing to watch Darlene learn and grow. Getting to know a team member is rewarding and important for overall success.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Darlene from day one,” Jordan says. “We’ve had some good chats about work, her skills, and different ways in which she can succeed. She is a quick learner, she’s skilled and she excels in a fast-paced environment.”

Chef Jordan appreciates Darlene’s skills but also her friendly nature

Jordan looks forward to the opportunities when he can work directly with Darlene, appreciating her humour and friendly nature. He is a firm believer in inclusive hiring.

People come with different abilities and require supports and structures that work for them. It’s so rewarding for me as a manager to learn about and create those supports. – Chef Jordan

As Darlene has become more familiar with her work, she’s also become more comfortable and confident. She loves the early morning hours, she loves the convenient location that lets her take the bus to work, and she loves the fresh, healthy food she gets to prepare. She loves the people she works with and truly values the support she gets from Jordan and from Nick, the café’s cook. Being part of a team is important to Darlene.

Microgreens, grown right in the cafe, are the secret to the freshness found in the menu items at Little Sprout Cafe

“We’ve got each other’s back, you never feel like you’re alone,” she says. “We work together to deliver food that’s super fresh and really healthy. It really doesn’t feel like work. It feels like a bunch of people getting together to cook. Happy people make happy food!”

What is clear is that working for an inclusive, supportive employer has also had an enormous impact on Darlene’s mental health. She says her depression feels like it has disappeared.

“My self-esteem and my self-confidence have gone through the roof,” she says. “I’m a different person.”

Darlene will graduate from SIL in September. She says she is grateful for the skills she has learned that enable her to live a happy life.

Vicky agrees. “Since she’s begun working here, I’ve seen her come alive even more. She keeps talking about this being the best job she’s had. She puts her heart and soul into her work and into the people she works with. She takes pride in how far she’s come. I’m always astounded by this woman and her tenacity. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Darlene hopes that people will come and visit the café and see the difference in food that’s made from fresh ingredients made by people who are empowered by their work.

“I’d love for people to come down and taste the difference for themselves,” she says.

Little Sprout Café is located at #102-2776 Bourquin Crescent West in Abbotsford. Learn more at littlesproutcafe.ca

Check out the BLT and other amazing offerings when you visit the Little Sprout Cafe website!

YUM!