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The Friendship Cafe to open in Florida offering adults with special needs restaurant skills as entry to employment

This fast-casual Mediterranean concept serves falafel with a side of training for those with autism, down syndrome and other needs

The Friendship Circle, a Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit that services adults and children with autism, down syndrome and other special needs, is set to open its first restaurant on Jan. 15, dubbed The Friendship Cafe.

The fast-casual concept is helmed by Israeli head chef Yoram Getter and will serve falafel platters, falafel pitas, vegetable shawarma and pastries. All of the food is kosher, as well.

Occupying two former restaurant spaces, the 700-square-foot restaurant has five full-time employees and six rotating workers with special needs from The Friendship Circle. Officials say they hope to employ more special needs adults as the restaurant becomes self sustaining.

The goal: To offer job training.

According to Friendship Circle, which has more than 80 chapters worldwide, about 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed nationwide.

At the café, those with special needs will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the industry, from food prep to customer service.

Elizabeth Camp is on staff as the special needs program coordinator where she works to train both the developmentally disabled and professional restaurant staff.

"We are so lucky to have found someone who has the skillset and personality to know what it takes to train special needs adults to integrate into the workforce. We are living miracles here," said Bill Feinberg, president of Allied Kitchen & Bath, whose firm donated time and materials to the project, in a statement.

The restaurant’s mission is close to everyone involved. Chef Getter has a nephew with special needs, he said.

“The best part [of The Friendship Café] is interacting and seeing the pride [the adults with special needs] get and how excited they are to have a purpose here,” said cannabis entrepreneur and investor Dean Myerow in an interview.

At the moment, there are 10 special needs adults in training. Every staff member is paid the same wages for comparable jobs and not the subminimum wage that some states still allow to be legal by the Department of Labor.

Here’s a look at the new Friendship Café.

Contact Holly at [email protected]

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