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Coco Café in Cedar celebrates 10th anniversary

Establishment employs people with diverse abilities
Coco Café opened 10 years ago, on June 3, offering food and employment opportunities to people with diverse abilities. (Submitted photo)

An eatery in Cedar is celebrating a decade of serving beverages, baked goods and meals to the community, with the assistance of people with diverse abilities.

Coco Café opened 10 years ago on June 3, according to a press release, with an objective to create “employment and socialization opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, or as increasingly referred to, diverse abilities.”

Two expansions, in 2013 and 2019, when it opened a commercial kitchen, have enabled the café to broaden services to offer catering and a retail food business, said the press release. Meals can now be purchased online, which has benefited people during the pandemic as some have sought take-out service.

The café has also offered assistance to the community, partnering with such non-profits as Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation to assist in serving families, said the press release.

The café worked with a financial supporter to provide 640 meals to the remote communities of Alert Bay and Ahousaht, said the press release, and $100 gift cards to front-line workers in Cedar for frozen meals.

Melanie Atwell, Coco’s general manager, graduated from Vancouver Island University’s culinary arts program, and Deborah Saucier, VIU president and vice-chancellor, said she was pleased with the alumna’s accomplishment.

“It has a local person getting a top-notch education in her chosen profession in her home community, then staying here to play a leadership role in a business that gives back – not just with the great culinary skills learned at VIU, but in terms of supporting a social enterprise really making a difference,” Saucier said in the press release.

While the pandemic has affected the café, Atwell said it hasn’t affected its desire to help the community.

“The pandemic laid bare the community’s increasing need for food security, which is why early in the pandemic we partnered with some of our core supporters to create the Coco Café charitable fund with the Nanaimo Foundation to work in partnership with others to provide meals for those negatively impacted by the pandemic,” said Atwell.

Patricia Johnston, Coco Café board director, said the community has played a part in the café’s success.

“The board and staff want to give a heart-felt thanks to the entire community for supporting us in our work,” Johnston said in the press release. “It has made an incredible difference to the lives of so many people with diverse abilities and to the families and friends who support them. And thanks to the staff for their tireless work.”

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