Breakfast. Lunch. Opportunity. That is Bloom Cafe’s motto, and it pretty much says it all about the cheery new restaurant on Oakland Avenue. Commuters up and down Highway 40 can’t miss its colorful patio umbrellas. Plus, the greeting from behind the registers confirms the happy tone: “Welcome to Bloom Cafe. Can I get you a menu?” The friendly service is part of the training employees receive in this Paraquad-run business. You see, it’s not just a place to grab breakfast or lunch (or a cappuccino), it’s also a pilot program for helping St. Louisans with disabilities find, and keep, meaningful employment in the hospitality field.
Poverty rates are high among the disabled, or as they prefer to be considered, the differently abled. That’s because unemployment is high, but it doesn’t have to be, which is why Paraquad launched this three-pronged program in March (training, internship, job placement). Started here in 1970 by Max Starkloff, Paraquad has worked for decades to empower people with disabilities through increased choice and opportunity, and what’s more empowering than making a living?
When you visit Bloom, you will encounter its first training class of 12 members who work side by side with professional chefs, cooks and job coaches to run a bona fide cafe. First, Paraquad identifies clients who are both trainable and employable (capable of learning the needed skill sets and of following a work schedule). Lest anyone doubt it, Bloom’s culinary director, Tom Wilson (Chef Tom), says the group is more reliable than many of the students he had during seven years teaching culinary arts in public school.
“Hospitality is one of the neediest fields, so fortunately there is a job for everyone,” from cook to server to reception, he says. While the cafe’s mission is to help these folks get ahead in the world—the same thing everyone else wants—it also aims to serve good food at good prices. I thoroughly enjoyed my Blooming Club Strata breakfast, especially while admiring broad views of Forest Park. But I was curious: what brought all of these other diners here on a Saturday morning? “I don’t recall how I heard about it,” said one woman, “but I’ve been here a couple of times now. I like it because there are so few places these days where it’s quiet. Here we can sit and enjoy our meal—and of course, there are the prices!”
Yes, the prices. I don’t know how they manage it, but the breakfasts are under $5 (well under). There are gluten-free and vegan options, burritos, bagels, waffles and scrambles. And gelato made from scratch (everything here is, including a wide array of sweets). So the next time you want to try something different for breakfast or lunch, why not go somewhere different? You will definitely get what you pay for, and then some, in smiles and the knowledge that you’ve helped someone get a little closer to their dream—a dream we take for granted in our own lives.