A division of Wellspring — the non-profit organization that provides valuable opportunities for the disabled, the Best Buddies Bakery & Cafe is discovering abilities and sharing them with the community.
In a back corner of the Emporium in Castle Rock sits a quaint cafe with an interesting story. It’s different from most cafes you’ve eaten at, and I would venture to guess that it’s definitely more special. Because behind all the Emporium’s 60-some booths of hand-crafted jewelry, lotions, and eclectic art, the servers at the Best Buddies Bakery & Cafe are bustling about, serving up coffee, tea, salads, sandwiches, and scones to hungry customers — and every one of the servers has a developmental disability.
On the day I visited Best Buddies, it was Brennan’s first day on the job as “host.” Given step-by-step instructions by a Wellspring staff member, Brennan led Mary Lou Fenton (Wellspring’s founder) and me to Table 6, where he distributed menus with a sweet, nervous smile.
At the table next to us sat 10 members of Brennan’s family, who had come to surprise him and support him on what was, undoubtedly, a nerve-racking day in his life.
“Everyone should have that kind of support,” Fenton said, watching the commotion as Brennan’s family greeted one another, each of them beaming with pride.
That’s the entire goal of Wellspring — to provide their STARS (Specially Talented Adults Raising Standards) with meaningful opportunities that build their self-confidence and remind them of their worth. Even though they were born with special needs (like Downs Syndrome or autism), STARS — like anybody — need to feel successful and to experience the pride of a job well done. Best Buddies Bakery & Cafe gives them that.
After she took my order, I asked Beth, our server, what she likes best about Wellspring.
“My favorite activity is doing knitting class,” she replied, referencing one of the many other activities that Wellspring offers STARS on a daily basis. She returned with my plate of quiche, which was, quite honestly, some of the best quiche I’ve ever had!
Open just a year and a half, since February 2016, the Cafe started out small — open just two days a week at first. Now they’re open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.
It took time for us to learn how to do this, how to train our STARS, how to train our volunteers, you know, how to manage orders,” Fenton said. “There’s so much to executing something as sophisticated as operating a restaurant and to do it in a way that’s not too stressful for them. Because our priority is the STARS. So it’s unique because we knew that people might come here initially out of curiosity, or convenience, maybe. But we knew that we would have to have high-quality food, high-quality baked foods to get them to come back.”
At the cafe, trained staff and volunteers are always available, working alongside the adults to give them the support they need to be successful in all aspects of hosting, serving, and bussing. Fenton even showed me the space across town at Castle Oaks Covenant Church, where Wellspring staff teaches the STARS how to serve and bus tables and develop the social skills needed for restaurant work, which can be stressful.
“The best part is that our Director of Programs incorporates ‘how to manage mistakes’ into the training,” Fenton said. “If they drop something or give the wrong order, they learn how to not stress out. It’s a way to prepare them and equip them.”
One thing Fenton is particularly grateful for is the support of the community. The Emporium actually invited Best Buddies into the location, having originally envisioned the space as a tea room, similar to the Brown Palace in downtown Denver. When they heard about Wellspring’s desire to launch the cafe, they gave them the space for free. Other groups also pitched in; the local Rotary Club donated the cafe’s outside patio furniture, and a church built planter boxes for flowers.
“Here, people know this is a different setting. We’re here for them,” Fenton said, motioning to the STARS. “We’re giving them the opportunity to feel a sense of dignity, be productive, and have meaningful work, and we slow it down and give them a lot of support.”
If you’d like to visit the Best Buddies Bakery & Cafe, it’s located at 200 Perry St., Castle Rock, inside The Emporium. They’re open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can view their delicious menu here.
Community members are also invited and encouraged to attend Wellspring’s Summer Celebration (featuring multiple performances by STARS) at the Miller Activities Complex amphitheater on Friday, July 28, at 5 p.m. The free celebration is a way for Wellspring to thank the Castle Rock community for all of their support!