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A new bistro at the St. Joseph’s Hospital is hoping to bring some colour to the monotony of hospital life. The bistro is an expansion of the services of Colours Café which has been serving St Joe’s for two and a half years. The café, located on the second floor of the West Fifth campus of the hospital, is a brightly lit space surrounded by artwork and high tables. In-patients say that café is a haven. In the early morning, the steaming coffee pot and the sunlight filtering in through the large windows provides a warm wake up call to patients and visitors alike.

The café is administered by Rainbow’s End, a social enterprise looking to provide employment opportunities for people who have struggled with mental health issues and addiction. When St. Joe’s approached Rainbow’s End to see if they would run a store out of their building, Rainbow’s End saw it as the perfect opportunity to open up jobs and train employees. At first, the café opened with just coffee and cold counters, but it didn’t take long for sales to pick up.

“It’s gone from success to success,” said David Williams, the Executive Director of Rainbow’s End.

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The café currently employs 11 people and is also open on weekends, when most places have closed their doors.

As of early February, Rainbow’s End was able to expand into a full kitchen in the first floor cafeteria, made possible by donations from the recent MSU Charity Ball. Workers at the new bistro have access to full commercial equipment that allows for expanded food prep training. Costumers are lining up for the hot breakfast and lunch plates, capitalizing on the opportunity for warm food in a building that serves most food in cold counters.

Williams hopes that the great food and service produced by his employees will contribute towards breaking the stigma of mental health.

Maribeth Chabot, the food services and manager chef for Rainbow’s End, said that she hopes Colours Café will provide the employees with skills to succeed in other jobs as well.

“Hopefully when I am done, these guys can move on and be a line cook in someone else’s restaurant. They will know all the things that a line cook needs to know, and the procedures of how a restaurant is run. You get a crowd of 50 people lining up for lunch. That kind of demand is reality. It gives them really good exposure to that and good skills in today’s market. And we laugh, we have too much fun.”

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Williams hopes that the great food and service produced by his employees will contribute towards breaking the stigma of mental health.

“What excites me most is really the opportunity to offer training and a real job to people that would like to get back to work and have to face certain hurdles such as mental health and addiction. The most important thing for us was to get it open, employ the right people and establish the business and credibility. I think we have done that,” says Williams.

Expectations for people working at the café or bistro are no different from other restaurants. In fact, employees are expected to already have or be planning to get their food handling certification.

As for the physical layout of the space, the bistro has a similarly airy feel as the café. The food is prepared right in front of the customers, with the stoves in plain sight of the cash register. The employees are not only learning to prepare food, but they are doing so in an environment where the people they are hoping to please are watching them work. So far the challenge has been met with enthusiasm.

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Williams knows this may not be the most comfortable of situations for staff. “It’s challenging. It would be challenging for anybody to prepare food that way.”

He also recognizes that perhaps his employees also have an edge others may not.

“We actually like to think that many of our team members, because they have experienced mental health challenges, have a lot of empathy with people who do have the same conditions. We feel that there is a degree of communication there that they can establish with other team members, with patients in hospital, with friends of patients who are coming to visit them.”

“I have a brother who has problems; I have a nephew I lost to suicide. I have been a chef all my life, I have made good money. I owned a restaurant. At this point in my life it’s time to give back.”

Chabot has nothing but praise for Rainbow’s End and their work at St. Joe’s. “I can tell you that working for Rainbows End has been one of the most rewarding jobs of my career. I mean, we can’t have a meeting where I don’t cry. They are a fabulous organization with people who care and with huge hearts. I am privileged to be a part of it and I get choked up. I have a brother who has problems; I have a nephew I lost to suicide. I have been a chef all my life, I have made good money. I owned a restaurant. At this point in my life it’s time to give back.”

Photo Credit: Alex Florescu

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