Brewing Greatness: Toronto Cafe Providing Meaningful Work to People With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Photo © Courtesy of Lil E Coffee Cafe

By Allie Murray

Wanting to bridge the gap in employment, Lil E Coffee Cafe is working to provide employment opportunities to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With locations in both Calgary and Toronto, the cafe has been able to provide employment to 30 individuals with disabilities—and counting.

According to a 2017 study by SPP Communiqués from the University of Calgary, nearly two-thirds of adults with a developmental disability in Canada are not in the workforce, even though many are willing and able to work. Similarly, three in four of the survey respondents shared that their disability had created barriers to employment.

“We believe individuals with intellectual disabilities can get forgotten in the workplace,” Serena Curtis, one of the Toronto general managers, told CBC. “Our goal is to give them meaningful work in a people-facing environment.”

Lil E Coffee Cafe began in Calgary by Paul Constance, who was inspired by his daughter, Ella, who has Down syndrome. Ella was the inspiration for both the creation of the cafe and the name—a Lil E for Ella. In 2023, Lil E Coffee Cafe expanded to Toronto, opening at the intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue.

lil e coffee cafe
Photo © Courtesy of Lil E Coffee Cafe
Photo © Courtesy of Lil E Coffee Cafe

The cafe operates as a not-for-profit and is dedicated to starting a movement to encourage other employers to hire people with disabilities. Working as a graduation program, they strive to hire individuals who have not yet had paid work experience, helping the employees build skills over an 18-to-24-month-long period. After graduating from the program, employees can move on to further employment opportunities, with help from the staff to find employees permanent work in their field of interest.

The employees themselves have nothing but good things to say about the cafe—thankful that the program gave them the chance they have been searching for.

Darby, who works at the Calgary location, told Global News Calgary he had been looking for a job since 2013.

“It’s been really hard for me to find a job,” he shared. “It gives me confidence, coming in here greeting the customers, and that they’re so patient with me and our employees.”

The cafe in both Calgary and Toronto has been well received and has become a daily stop for many locals. Through both locations, the goal of Lil E Coffee Cafe is to create 10,000 jobs—one cup at a time.

With a trip to the cafe, visitors can choose from classics like lattes, hot chocolate, cappuccino and find joy in knowing their beverage of choice was made with love and hard work.

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