A Café With Compassion

A Café With Compassion

Boston’s Power Café empowers its employees, in the dining room and in the kitchen.

If you’re in the Boston area and looking for a Sunday brunch place, check out Watertown’s new Power Café. The café features homemade challah, Mediterranean-influenced salads with clever names like “A Fig-Mint Of Your Imagination” and platters of frittatas, fruit and bread pudding. Yelp reviewers appreciate both the tasty menu and also the fresh muffins and cookies that are available to go.

The Power Café is the brainchild of Galit Schwartz, a former software engineer, teacher and mother of five children, who spent several years volunteering with children who have Down syndrome and learning more about disability rights issues. Schwartz read about social enterprises like bakeries and cafés in other communities in which adults with disabilities were given vocational training and support and were able to be out in front of the business, interacting with customers and being part of the community. “I thought, why isn’t there a place like that in Boston? Several months later I thought, ‘If not I, then who? And if not now, then when?’” says Schwartz, who opened the café in fall of 2015.

Stephen Mallet at work in Power Café’s kitchen.

Schwartz partnered with Triangle Inc., a Malden, MA-based organization that provides vocational coaching and other services for adults with disabilities. Triangle helped Schwartz create a training manual for employees and also introduced her to two potential employees who had completed the organization’s culinary arts training course.
Those graduates, Stephen Mallett and Rachel Gatzunis, the café’s two employees (along with Schwartz), bring unique strengths to the business. Mallett, who is 48, worked for an antibiotics company before having a stroke eight years ago. Mallett always loved cooking as a hobby and prefers working in the back of the café, where he excels at food preparation. Gatzunis is 22 and is eager, enthusiastic and very social — perfect qualities for the front of the café, where she greets customers and takes orders.

“Power Café is staffed and run entirely by people with physical and/or developmental disabilities. I am very excited about creating a venue which not only creates real opportunities for people with disabilities, but does so in a context where they can interact in a powerful, autonomous way with the mainstream community,” Schwartz explains. “I see this as building bridges and forming personal connections to overcome prejudice and stereotypes.”

Throughout every aspect of her cozy venue, Schwartz considers ways to empower people with disabilities. Power Café features Maryland’s Furnace Hills Coffee, whose roaster has Down syndrome. The art on the café walls is made by people with disabilities who attend Gateway Arts in nearby Brookline. The menu is available in large print and in Braille. Half the tables left to her by the previous owner were moved to the basement to make space for wheelchairs to maneuver. A special door was put in for easier accessibility.

Schwartz recognizes that she is helping her community see people with disabilities in a new light. Working at the café is having a profound effect on both of her employees, she says. Rachel Gatzunis has begun to imagine herself as an entrepreneur like Schwartz. “One of my main goals is to open a café or restaurant like this one run by people with disabilities because of my own personal disabilities,” she says. “I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against.”