The Arc Gateway’s new breakfast and lunch cafe in downtown Pensacola serves much more than just coffee, breakfast burritos and lunch sandwiches. It also serves clients with developmental or intellectual disabilities a slice of real life work experience and social skills.
Gateway Cafe on the first floor of The Studer Community Institute Building on West Garden Street opened this summer after an initial soft opening in March, immediately before the pandemic.
The mission of the cafe is two-fold. It offers a convenient, fast-casual breakfast and lunch option for the SCI Building’s employees and tenants. But more importantly, the cafe’s purpose is to provide meaningful work experience for students with disabilities enrolled in a business course at Pensacola State College through a partnership with The Arc Gateway.
“Starting (Monday), we have a program at PSC called the Program for Adult Learning and Support, which is a post-secondary program for people with disabilities,” said The Arc Gateway CEO Missy Rogers on Monday. “So we’re going to use some of the students that we are training and teaching, starting in an internship mode essentially, and then we’ll train them with a variety of skill sets that they can transfer into the community.”
The new program provides basic academic training to students, who in turn will be able to filter into the cafe as interns and train on the job within the next couple of months.
“They’ll be trained to learn restaurant, turn-key experience, but I also think it’s a good way for the public to get used to interacting with people with developmental disabilities,” said Chip Henderson, The Arc Gateway’s chief advancement officer.
Rogers said the students enrolled in the course will be recruited to work and learn at the cafe before graduating this fall.
“They’re just now starting back with hybrid virtual and in-person classes,” Rogers said. “The program is tailor-made for the students, so one might go for one semester, one might go for two or three years. As soon as we figure out which students are ready for that next internship, this will be an option for them.”
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Gateway Cafe is open to SCI Building tenants and the public between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The building is currently operating at 40% capacity due to COVID-19.
Although students have yet to filter in via the PSC adult learning program, the cafe is open with a full menu now.
Breakfast items include a $5 egg and cheese sandwich with either bacon or sausage and on either a bagel or croissant; a $4 keto burrito stuffed with bacon, egg and cheese; and classic and gourmet deviled eggs, both priced at $3 and under.
For lunch, the cafe makes fresh sandwich varieties like chicken salad, chicken pesto and brie on ciabatta, bacon pimento grilled cheese, a Cuban, a BLT, a veggie wrap and a ham and brie on ciabatta. All sandwiches cost $7 or less.
Gateway Cafe also has an array of soup and salad options that are all made to order. Then there are pastries, croissants, bags and bars of candy and a full menu of hot and iced coffees and espressos.
Rogers said Monday that within the food and drink realm of the concept, Gateway Cafe prioritized partnerships with local businesses.
“We sell Big Jerk Soda, so we want to incorporate Pensacola products into this as well,” Rogers said. “Our coffee is Bodacious coffee, as well.”
Customers will notice a shelf stacked with homemade ceramic plates, bowls and other household ornaments. Those for-sale items were designed by The Arc Gateway’s clients.
“That’s all for sale up there, so it’s a really cool way for some people, who most likely will not be able to work in the community, to receive a paycheck as well,” Rogers said.
Arc Gateway serves about 1,200 local men, women and children. There are 36 adults ages roughly 20 to 78 who live in six local group homes, and hundreds of others who live out in the wider community.
Rogers confirmed Monday that while none of the nonprofit organization’s clients have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic unfolded in March, clients in group homes are still on lockdown.
Many services offered by Arc Gateway are social in nature, but with that element wiped out for the time being, staff are doing their best to engage clients while prioritizing their health.
“We’ve been doing Zoom sessions with the houses, and we have fantastic program directors who have gone and written messages in chalk and sent pizza,” said Arc Gateway Chief Financial Officer Dan Buryj. “We are trying to engage as much as we can virtually, but it doesn’t replace the in-person experience.”
The state of Florida had been supporting Arc Gateway with emergency funding during the pandemic, but that pipeline of funding has been cut off as of Aug. 1, according to Rogers. Arc Gateway is now solely reliant on billing for the services provided, and is currently struggling to generate revenue.
“Having an operation like this and allowing the public to make purchases from us helps offset some of that to a degree,” Rogers said. “But I’m smiling underneath the mask because I’m so excited about (the cafe). I think it’s going to be such a great, real-life, hands-on, experiential way for the students to learn.”
The cafe is at 220 W. Garden St., Suite 130.
Jake Newby can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8538.