by Rachel Scott McDaniel
After many years of teaching cooking classes to adults with special needs at Market Street, in McKinney, Ruth Thompson dreamed of a restaurant that employed this population of people. She heard how much each of them wanted to be employed, and in 2013, Hugs Café was estab- lished, serving gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups, fresh salads and desserts.
“When someone with special needs ages out of school at 21, the majority stay at home with no purpose. The mission of Hugs Cafe is to provide training and employment for adults with special needs [teammates],” says Thompson. The restaurant employs 22 adults with special needs and five mainstream employees, including a full-time restaurant manager and full-time kitchen manager. “All of our teammates work part-time and love everything that they do,” says Thompson.
They use community volunteers on a daily basis to act as job coaches and work side-by-side with the teammates, making sure they are doing their jobs correctly. At times, volunteers are used in the kitchen, too. “There are more than 47,000 individuals with special needs in Collin County, alone,” states Thompson. “The 22 teammates that we employ are just a very small drop in a very large bucket. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Hugs Cafe to get information on how to sign up.”
In 2016, they began Hugs Prep, teaching food service skills to other adults with special needs in the hope that they will be employed by a restaurant or caterer some day. Later this year, they plan to open Hugs Green- house for those that may have no interest in the food service industry, but aspire to grow and sell seasonal flowers and herbs.
Volunteers are always welcome. Hugs Café is located at 224 E. Virginia St., in McKinney. For more information, call 469- 301-6900 or visit HugsCafe.org.