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Q & A with Brownies & Downies founder, Wendy Vermeulen

Brownies & Downies offer employment opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities.

19 Feb 2016
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Brownies & Downies opened on 8 February sparking a lot of interest; firstly with its name and secondly with its entire concept. Brownies & Downies is a training centre for people with intellectual disabilities, where the trainees work and run the restaurant. It’s a fully fledged coffee shop and lunch restaurant but with a a very different mission and vision to its Long Street counterparts.

Founder Wendy Vermeulen hopes to promote awareness and acceptance of her trainees and people with similar disabilities. These employees are given an opportunity that they might not have had otherwise, since such training facilities are very scarce in South Africa. It is certainly the first of its kind in Cape Town, and an ideal location for it with Cape Town’s avid coffee and eating out culture.

Mission Statement
Our mandate is to improve the quality of life for the intellectually challenged, and to evolve the South African societal views and acceptance of these individuals into society. We want to create a welcoming atmosphere of love and acceptance in every outlet, and provide exceptional quality of food and dining experiences to our customers.

Vision statement
The vision of Our Second Home is to give young adults with an intellectual disability the possibility to live their lives just like every other person. We want them to be able to “live on their own”, and have their own job. We want to achieve this with flexible and professional guidance in their daily routine while looking at their individualized personal care plan.

We asked Wendy Vermeulen a few questions about her initiative.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I did my internship in Grabouw from August 2010 until June 2011 at Child Welfare and a school in Botrivier. It was for my 3rd year in social work. After this year I had to go back to do my last year of social work. I realised in this last year of my studies that I really loved South Africa and that Cape Town is the place where I wanted to be. So in September 2012 I moved here for good.

My dad has a bakery and he used to have what we called a lunchroom (a place where you can have lunch and coffee and cakes.)  I worked there from 15 years old. I have always loved working with children and young adults with special needs.  And because of my hospitality background and the fact that a restaurant with special needs trainees/staff is more common in the Netherlands, I thought why not start one in Cape Town?

Where did the idea come from?

Brownies & Downies comes from the Netherlands where there are quite a few places for people with special needs to work at. That is exactly what we would like to get here. Create awareness, show people that those with special needs are not stupid and that they can definitely work.

Why a coffee shop as opposed to other industry training?

Most of the protective workshops have to do with woodwork or building doll houses or making jewellery. Not many places teach young adults with special needs how to be a barista, waiter or a chef. We thought it would be a nice change to the things that are already available.

What is your past experience with similar initiatives of upliftment?

It is really good for their self esteem. The young adults really need this opportunity to show their parents, family and other community members that they can work and that they are like anybody else.

What skills do you hope to instill in the trainees?

Social skills - especially the young adults with autism struggle with this. But also manners, kitchen skills, how to bake, how to chop and cut produce and how to make coffee (they have had training at Truth and our own baristas teach them as well). Also how to act as a waiter and host i.e how to welcome people, how to make sure that a costumer is happy and how to handle costumers that are unhappy.

Who is the head chef at the restaurant and where has he/she worked previously?

My head chef is Sean Barrington. He has worked in England for the last 15 years before he came back to South Africa. He has also worked at a college where they taught young adults with intellectual disabilities 2 times a week.

How many trainees do you have at one time? And how long do you intend to keep trainees at the restaurant before they move on to find other work?
We have 7-8 young adults at a time and we have 25 in total. They all work about two days - some only one and some three days. We were planning on three months but we might be moving to a partnership with a company that helps people with disabilities to get paid learnerships and internships so we're not sure yet.

How did you get involved with Truth Coffee?
We knew that we needed good coffee so I contacted some good coffee shops/roasteries in town and Truth was immediately happy to help.

Show your support for this worthy cause by visiting Brownies & Downies at
Shop 7, 2 Long Street, Cape Town!

Read more on: restaurant  |  coffee shop

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