«A cafe operating as a Social Cooperative Enterprise where Differences make the difference»
Myrtillo Cafe is a unique business idea that started up its operations in Athens, Greece, as a Social Cooperative Enterprise with a special purpose, to integrate vulnerable groups into the labour market.
Myrtillo has been operating as a cafeteria and arts centre since October 2013. It is an innovative, self-supporting business and training entity. In a very short time, Myrtillo Cafe has become a ground breaking business venture and is leading by example within the Greek community by employing individuals with disabilities (autism spectrum, deafness, learning difficulties and mild movement difficulties) whereby they feel they have a platform where they can be heard and seen working, as a positive example to their community, actively proving that their differences can make the difference. The staff has a chance to feel worthy, gain valuable work experience, feel that they belong and have hope for a better future for themselves.
THE CONCEPT OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
The staff of Myrtillo
• are co – owners and co – administrators of the enterprise and co- responsible for its viability.
• participate in the General Meetings of the Social Enterprise as equal members.
• contribute their views.
• contribute actively to the realization of the decisions taken.
• are trained for integration in the workforce, by specialists, using methods of occupational therapy and psycho-therapeutic interventions.
They produce innovative ideas and quality products. Some of the Myrtillo staff are actively involved in producing hand-made items which are sold at their Christmas and Easter bazaars, contributing to those difficult months when funds may be lower than usual.
LOCATION –ATHENS, GREECE
Located in a beautiful oasis once known as KAPAPS Park, these KAPAPS buildings which were constructed after the Second World War with funding from Norway and equipped with machine tools, became The Psychiko Centre for The Rehabilitation of Disabled Citizens. In 1957 the building complex was presented to Greece by the Norwegian Government to provide training facilities for disabled war wounded. Thanks to this invaluable donation, over the following decades hundreds of young men and women learned various crafts here as watchmakers, tailors and bookbinders. In the 1990’s the attractive industrial buildings fell into disuse and soon began to deteriorate. In 2014, the Municipality of Athens, under the then Mayor George Kaminis, renovated the buildings with financial assistance from the European Union and the park was then presented to the citizens of Athens under a new name in February 2016, as Park for Culture and Children. Hence, Myrtillo Cafe found a most suitable residence.
Myrtillo Café’s events provide the bulk of its income. Without running events, and operating solely as a café, the business would face a challenge to run profitably as daily running costs would not be met easily in a community where the café culture is highly developed and the competition is stiff.
Myrtillo Cafe has hosted many successful events such as:
• live music nights with well known Greek bands
• stand -up comedy nights
• business seminars
• theatrical events
• book presentations and launches
• art exhibitions
• dance nights (with themes such as tango, Latin and Scottish dancing)
• parties (birthdays, Christmas and Carnival)
Up until Myrtillo’s establishment in 2013, no such other business in Athens, Greece aimed to be an employer exclusively of individuals with a disability. With the help of specialized training, the individuals working at Myrtillo aim to become as productive as they can be, in the job position allocated to them, suited to their abilities. As the employees are working in the hospitality service industry, the designated job positions are:
• waiting tables
• kitchen duties
• administrative assistant
• general duties such as cleaning and gardening.
KNOW- HOW, STAFF TRAINING AND STAFF SUPERVISION
Myrtillo Café has gone through different phases of development. When the business first started, the staff did not feel close with each other and were very closed off emotionally and often lacking in effective communication skills, mainly because no one had ever worked before and came from very protected home environments.
At that time, the staff were put into groups and followed a course of Drama and Music therapy, and counselling, to learn how to communicate within a team. Myrtillo Café continued to get support from occupational therapists that specialized in the field of autism. After an assessment for each employee, a personalized job description was created for each individual, keeping in mind their skills potential, and a step- by -step task analysis with visual aids was developed and used in on-the-job training situations.
Myrtillo continues to find ways to provide support for working in a team with the help of a psychiatrist/counsellor.The business runs staff meetings where everyone discusses their ideas in a group and work as a team to find solutions to problems.
Celebrity chefs have also been involved on a volunteer basis in advising on menu changes and running training days for the kitchen staff.
In the six year lifespan of the store, there is significant improvement in all the employees’ skills regarding customer service and working together as a team.
Despite training however, and not unlike any regular cafe, when working with staff that have differences, constant supervision is required to fulfill daily responsibilities effectively under pressure. This specialized supervision is costly and adds an extra financial burden to the business expenses thus affecting the viability of the business.
To minimize this expense one of the solutions to this situation has been to find students that are studying in the fields of special education, social work, psychology and occupational therapy, and as part of their clinical training, to act as supervisors to the employees and make sure all their daily tasks are completed successfully.
Individuals with disability need visual aids. Everyone can benefit from using a graph, photo or step- by- step instructions to break up text. In the case of Myrtillo Cafe, the staff may use visual aids to have a better understanding of the instructions needed to complete their tasks. Myrtillo Cafe uses photos of food preparation with step- by- step instructions of their set menu and photos with the end result of how a dish should look when served to a customer.
Another method used in the kitchen setting is using colour-coded chopping boards so that staff can differentiate between what foods are used on what colour chopping board according to the health and safety regulations of the service and food sector. This method of visual training has been tested and proven to be an effective method of learning for Myrtillo Cafe.
Colour coding has also been used for the staff to be able to identify their shifts on the weekly rosters.
Laminated check lists of daily duties have been prepared for the various positions so that these duties may be checked off with a marker as they are completed. The list is wiped clean at the end of the day.
IMPACT OF MYRTILLO CAFÉ ON COMMUNITY AWARENESS
Myrtillo is opening up and broadening people’s minds about individuals with disabilities. It has broken down barriers and encourages families to actively let their loved one with a disability be in and amongst the community.
Already Myrtillo is playing a key role in increasing community awareness of the abilities of disabled individuals, through an educational programme targeting school children that is run in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Education. This educational training programme is open to students from years 5 and 6 through to high school.
The aim is for students
• to become familiar with social issues such as people with differences, volunteerism and offering a helping hand
• to become informed about current social problems in their community
• to develop an understanding about individual responsibility and social change.
This programme is new and has not happened before in Greece. It is a programme that a lot of educators are excited about because the real and lasting changes will come by changing the attitudes of children.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
Myrtillo Cafe has received recognition in the form of hospitality industry awards. These awards are the Social Enterprise Of The Year 2014 and the 2019 Estia Award for their role in actively changing the lives of people with disabilities.
Recognition has also come through the media who have supported Myrtillo Café consistently, with coverage in current affairs programmes, live talk- back shows, newspapers, magazines and electronic sites.
Awards certainly play a key role in recognition of a business’s efforts. Yet the real recognition is that Myrtillo Cafe has impacted its community, by continuing to educate them that individuals with disability are useful members of the community, and that employers and co- workers should not to be hesitant to employ and work side-by-side with these individuals. The necessary ingredients for an individual with disability to succeed is mutual understanding between the employer and employee of what is being asked of them, patience, equal opportunity and the desire of the individual to do better and perform to the best to their abilities, conditions which apply for everyone in the community.
Prepared by Sophia Pappas, January 2020