ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois - A new Arlington Heights café is saying "yes" to employees who aren’t used to hearing that three letter word. Gerry’s Café offers hot beverages and warm smiles in an atmosphere where everyone is welcome.
"We're here to show our abilities to all the world," said cashier Garrett Anderson, who has Down Syndrome. He and his fellow employees are buzzing to make this new café a success.
The founders, Natalie Griffin, a former special education teacher and Amy Philpott, a restaurateur, came up with the idea five years ago. It’s finally come to fruition. The café employs individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"I saw a huge void after they leave school at age twenty-two, where there were just no job opportunities," said Griffin.
"Our population that we're employing is the most unemployed population in the world," added Philpott.
Forty-three employees currently work at the café. They are assisted by two managers and some supervisors who offer job training and mentorship.
"Hopefully by what we're doing here, we can educate not only our employees to do great things with their time and talent, but also we can educate the public as to what this population can do and produce," said Philpott.
Laura Shaffer is a barista who says she likes Gerry’s Café "because everyone is accepted for who they are and they treat people the way they want to be treated".
The café is named for Philpott’s late aunt, Gerry. At the time of her birth in 1958, doctors urged her family to institutionalize Gerry for a Down Syndrome diagnosis. But they refused.
"We can all do better. Hopefully this is our better," said Philpott as she held back tears.
Gerry’s Café is an atmosphere where inclusivity is on full display. Garrett Anderson gets emotional when he reflects on his goal.
"I know that we do have exceptionalities but to us it's not good, it's not bad, it just is," said Anderson.
It’s a Labor of Love, baked to perfection and brimming with hope.
"If everyone walked into this cafe every day the world would be a different place," said Philpott.
Gerry’s Café is officially open for business six days a week from 7am to 5pm. It’s located at 1802 North Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights.