Mark Flening

Mark Flening

Coco Cafe called a leader with disability employment model

NANAIMO – Michelle Stilwell, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, visits Coco Cafe to promote Disability Employment Month.

Coco Cafe in Cedar was busier than usual after lunch when Michelle Stilwell, B.C. MLA for Parksville-Qualicum and minister of social development and social innovation, toured the restaurant.

Stilwell’s visit was to help promote Disability Employment Month in B.C.

Cedar Opportunities Co-operative was formed in 2007 by several families in Cedar, Yellow Point and Cassidy to create opportunities for employment for people with developmental challenges. The group formed Coco Cafe, which today has 23 employees – 13 of whom have developmental challenges.

Stilwell said the cafe is a leader in employment for people with disabilities.

“This is an opportunity to look at the social impact that social enterprises around our province can have and … to make sure that we’re interacting with the communities, seeing what their struggles are and what they’re able to provide as a service to the community,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell went on to say it’s important to go beyond having companies simply donate money to such things as community events and hospital foundations and to find ways to collaborate within communities to create greater social impact.

Sarah Pachkowsky, the co-operative’s manager of community engagement, said the co-operative is working to get to the point where the cafe can expand or be franchised in a second location.

The cafe also offers a training program that certifies employees’ skills for work in other restaurants.

“The sky’s the limit … but our main objective is to be able to financially support the individuals we have employed at Coco as well as be able to continue our training program,” Pachkowsky said.

The cafe’s 100-hour training program is for permanent full- and part-time employees and the cooperative recently added a pilot program to help people with disabilities get opportunities for employment and workplace training elsewhere within the community.

“We find what they’re passionate about within our cafe, start training them there and then … we train them in everything from barista, food prep, delivery, customer service, busing, line cook and so on,” Pachkowsky said. “Once training is complete, the cafe manager and board of directors sign off on the employee’s certification. The cafe then either hires those employees or helps find them jobs.”

About 40 people are currently waiting to be trained or hired.

“But that’s only what we know of right now,” Pachkowsky said. “We know that the need is substantially higher than that.”

To learn more about the cooperative and its programs, please contact Pachkowsky at 250-741-6968 or

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