Students with special needs operate successful vegetarian cafe

Local News

GADSDEN, Ala (WIAT) – A cafe run and operated by students with special needs is gaining attention after being featured in a documentary at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival.

Chip Rowan is a teacher for Gadsden City Schools and started the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe program.

“Beautiful Rainbow Cafe is a vehicle we use in Gadsden City schools to teach students with significant disabilities or students in an autism spectrum the skills they’ll need to get employed in the community,” said Rowan. “So they are responsible for operating everything in the cafe.” 

Rowan says the idea came to him after he learned students who left the special education program were not employed or participating in any type of vocational training. Rowan wants to bridge that gap.

The cafe is located in the Gadsden Public Library and has been operating for two years. The students are responsible for preparing, cooking, and serving all the meals. So far, 19 students have been hired by local restaurants.

“These students have not had the opportunity throughout their lives to do something creative and productive that they can be proud of,” said Rowan. “Now you see that they have that and it lights up their life. It causes real change in their ability to socialize with people and their own thoughts of their own skills and the self-confidence it brings.” 

Beautiful Rainbow Cafe is the only vegetarian restaurant in Gadsden. Students either grow or source all ingredients from local organic farms. Rowan hopes the concept behind the cafe will spread.

“Look at the ability of these people. Don’t look at their disability, look at their ability. They can run a really nice high-class lunch restaurant, then the sky is the limit. Let’s start thinking of people in that way,” said Rowan.

If you would like to learn more about Beautiful Rainbow Cafe, click here.

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