Video: 2:02 minutes
L’Arche, founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier, is an international federation of one hundred and forty-nine communities in 37 countries. L’Arche Winnipeg provides a unique vision of care giving and community building that fosters inclusion, understanding and belonging, and encourages the members with developmental disabilities to live life to their full potential. In Winnipeg, 28 people with a developmental disability and 25 volunteer assistants call L’Arche home, living in six houses and two independent living apartments.
In 2012, L’Arche Winnipeg opened the L’Arche Tova Café to further our mission of making known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities. In addition to providing wholesome food and great service in a warm and welcoming place, the L’Arche Tova Café strives to provide meaningful employment for people with a developmental disability, and to build a more compassionate society.
The L’Arche Tova Café journey has been a long one, from the time when L’Arche had the dream of opening this type of Café, until it officially opened. A strategy committee was formed and went through the process of commissioning a feasibility study and a business plan. When it was decided to move forward with the project, the right location needed to be found, and a building at 119 Regent Ave. West was the perfect place. After extensive renovations, the official opening day finally arrived. On April 2, 2012, the L’Arche Tova Café welcomed its first customers. This bistro style restaurant was warmly received by the surrounding community of Transcona and beyond.
The L’Arche Tova Café provides training and employment for the L’Arche participants. As news about this new social enterprise spread, there were many individuals through the school special education program, such as the culinary arts program, that also wanted to be a part of the Café.
Through the training received at the Café, individuals with a developmental disability learn new skills, interact with the customers and also have the opportunity to become employed in the restaurant industry. This is one of the most marginalized groups of people in our society, and opportunities for job training for them is very limited.
The participants are eager to serve the customers, and the customers are more than happy to chat with them. Everyone wants to be respected for who they are and the gifts that they have to offer. Through this day program at the Café, the participants are valued, and their gifts recognized and embraced by the Café staff and the customers. Many of our customers have formed wonderful friendships with the participants.
The participants are proud of their new skills, such as bringing beverages to the table, taking orders, serving the customers’ food orders, as well as clearing and wiping tables. One participant is employed as a cook and others work in the back area of the Café in many other capacities.
Some of the customers come into the Café not only for the great food but to receive a warm hug from Albert. Stacey brings her enthusiasm and buoyant spirit to the Café, and has lively conversations with our customers. Nolan, who has received coaching in food preparation, is now happily employed by the Café as a cook. Josie diligently ensures that the dishes are sprayed of any food debris before placing them in the dishwasher.
The L’Arche Tova Café has done much to break down barriers for individuals with a developmental disability. It has brought them into a place where they are accepted, appreciated and are able to show the skills they have learned. The Café is a place of hope and gratitude, and many customers remark how heartwarming it is to drop in for a visit. Not only do you receive delicious food at the L’Arche Tova Café, it is also changing lives, one cup of coffee at a time.
In 2017, at the annual Manitoba Awards Dinner, the L’Arche Tova Café volunteers received the Premier’s Service Award. Stacey, one of the Café participants, received the Mayor’s Award.
Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister of Canada, has visited the Café, and MLA’s James Teitsma and Blair Yakimoski are frequent visitors. On March 9, 2017, the MLA for Transcona, Blair Yakimoski, read a Private Member’s Statement before the House of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba about the L’Arche Tova Café.
Every Thursday, the Café is the host for the Northeast Business Exchange meetings where business owners, along with community members, get together to build relationships and share information. The Café has also hosted special music nights, and had a painting night where students from the River East Transcona School Division and our members of L’Arche, along with their assistants and special friends, created beautiful art together.
Five years is a milestone for the L’Arche Tova Café, and we would like to thank all of the organizations, businesses, customers and supporters who have helped us along the way. A special thank you to Larry and Tova Vickar who have been very supportive and generous to L’Arche Winnipeg and to the L’Arche Tova Café. The Café is named after Tova, whose name means “Good”. Our social enterprise has certainly been good for our participants, our volunteers, our community and our customers. Tova Vicar has also graciously shared some of her favourite recipes, which appear on the Café menu.
L’Arche Winnipeg is very proud that we have established a place where sharing, caring, acceptance, and friendships all come together – with plenty of helpings of “great food with heart”!
A very charming one-minute video by Monique Pantel: