By Rebekah Devlin
Nestled in Bayside Melbourne, All Things Equal is a café where hope, respect and opportunity are always on the menu. General manager, Bianca Stern, explains how this life-changing enterprise has become a firm favourite among coffee lovers.
What was the inspiration behind All Things Equal (ATE)?
The chair of our board was concerned about his daughter’s employment options when finishing school in 2020. His daughter, who is autistic, loved to bake and being in a kitchen environment, but didn’t have a workplace that could support her to thrive in employment.
United by a vision to see more young people with disability in paid employment opportunities, the board came together and raised some funds, and All Things Equal was established in January, 2021.
How has it grown?
When we opened our doors, we had five people with disability employed with ATE. Today, we have 25 young adults with disability in award-wage employment with us. We run two cafes, a footy club canteen, a cooking school, and an ice cream cart! It’s safe to say we have grown very quickly due to the huge demand for what we’re doing in the inclusive employment space.
Tell us about your employees
Our staff are the heart of our organisation. They are hard workers, smart, capable and are thriving in what they do.
We have 50 employees – 25 are neurodiverse. We employ a large range of people with differing abilities, including intellectual disability, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD.
Is previous experience necessary?
Most of our staff have never been in paid employment before, so this is often their first real-world opportunity to learn absolutely everything.
ATE sets expectations necessary for anyone to thrive in a real-world environment. We act as a stepping stone towards more mainstream employment which means our staff (my colleagues) have the opportunity to learn, make mistakes, challenge themselves and ultimately, flourish in our environment.
The world of hospitality can be quite tricky. You never know what mood a customer may be in when they walk through our door or how busy it may get. We feel people learn best through doing, so we provide on-the-job training that can be reflected and acted upon as they’re working. ATE also has a variety of workplace accommodations in place to meet the needs of individualised staff. This ranges from the implementation of visual resources, adapting shift and break times, uniform accessibility and more.
How do you assess what roles will suit people best?
When we first meet with a potential employee, the recipe to employment is in their hands. We ask them what roles they’d be interested in, and what support they may require from ATE to thrive. The successful applicant will take part in on-the-job training in either front-of-house or back-of-house roles. Through a co-design approach, the employee and ATE work together to determine what roles will be most suitable for the employee.
What do your employees get out of being employed, other than the obvious… a wage!
Our employees are provided with a purposeful opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way. To us, this is the most important benefit to providing anyone with employment. Of course, our staff also learn new skills each day, learn to work in a team, meet new people, the importance of showing up to work on time and understanding overall workplace expectations too.
You pay your staff award rates, why was it important to do that?
We believe all people should be able to find a self-sustaining purpose in life and maintain a sustainable income, regardless of having a disability or not. All people deserve to be compensated fairly for their work, especially when they add so much value to our workplace!
What would you say to other parents who are lying awake at night, wondering what their kids are going to do when they finish school, or who may have already finished?
We feel you and we understand it’s not easy. Your child is deserving of every opportunity they wish for in life. You are their greatest advocate!
How can parents assist their children and find employers who are inclusive and supportive?
Don’t take no for an answer. Keep knocking on doors, educating local business owners and advocating. Everything is possible, if we get the right people on board.
Would you encourage other parents to open a business in partnership with their child?
I’d be dishonest if I said it was easy and seamless all the time. It can be complex, but it is absolutely worth it. You never know, the risk may be worth the reward!
What do members of the public say when they first come to the café?
We like to say, we hope they enter with a smile and leave with an even bigger one. We love that people visit our café because we make good food and coffee. We don’t want to be tokenistic. However, if customers leave being a little more educated on inclusive employment, or consider being a bit kinder to people of all abilities, we love that too.
Meet ATE employee Zac
LENGTH OF SERVICE:
Since February 2021
Back-of-house – helping to cook with the chef, food preparation, coming up with menu items.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB:
It’s my first paid job and it makes me feel important. I enjoy working in the kitchen, I like working in a team and love the staff. It’s helped me to be more independent and to cook food I hadn’t tried before. It gives me confidence in the kitchen.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE:
I want to be a full-time artist with my own shop.