Stephanie Edwards buses tables using a special plastic bin attached to her wheelchair on a PVC pipe base. The Tempe resident uses the wheelchair because she cerebral palsy. She excitedly talks about her new job at Banner Corporate Center’s Blue Ribbon Bistro in Mesa.
Stephanie Edwards buses tables using a special plastic bin attached to her wheelchair on a PVC pipe base.
The Tempe resident uses the wheelchair because she cerebral palsy. She excitedly talks about her new job at Banner Corporate Center’s Blue Ribbon Bistro in Mesa.
“I love working here,” said Edwards, 24, a former state poster child for Easter Seals. “I’m a people person … I never dreamed I would be getting an opportunity like this.”
The cafeteria-style restaurant opened in February and serves breakfast and lunch to the 1,000 Banner employees who work in the old Banner Mesa Medical Center, now a corporate office building, off Brown Road and Country Club Drive.
Edwards is one of the 39 employees who work at the bistro and nearby Java Junction coffee shop.
Those employees, ranging in age from 18-55, all have a developmental, physical or mental disability. At the restaurant, they have a chance to work with job coaches and managers who have the patience and knowledge to assist them, said Yvette Smith, the director of federal contracts for The Centers for Habilitation.
“We wanted to create and support individuals with disabilities (in Mesa),” said Smith, who drives from Tucson a couple times a week. “Being able to create jobs in this economy and open this restaurant has just been phenomenal.”
The restaurant is modeled after the Desert Inn Dining Facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, which employs 65 people with disabilities and has been open for 17 years, Smith said.
The Mesa employees come from the Marc Center of Mesa and The Centers for Habilitation in Tempe, two centers that work with people with disabilities. Employees had to apply and interview, just like any other job. Smith did all the hiring and said she tried to match skill levels and plans to rotate employees so they can all experience different jobs.
“The uniqueness is people are able to fail here and not risk their job,” Smith said. “You’re not going to get that at a (typical) restaurant. For many employees they’ve never done this type of work before.”
The chance to work with the public and do different jobs in a restaurant setting appeals to the employees. Before they worked at the restaurant, many did assembly-line, monotonous-type work such as shredding papers, putting together kits, breaking down boxes and folding towels.
“I like this a lot more,” said Edwards, who used to work at The Centers for Habilitation doing some of those jobs. “This is more than I had hoped for. … It’s a nice change of pace from what I was doing before.”
Smith said the employees are “so eager to learn and willing to do anything. They love their jobs. This is exciting for them.”
Tanya Vanley of Chandler, who has scoliosis and has limited use of her right hand, said she enjoys working at the bistro because she doesn’t have to sit all day to do her job, and she can be with her friends. The 34-year-old washes dishes at the restaurant.
“I want to continue to work here,” said Vanley, who used to separate paper at The Centers for Habilitation.
Working at the restaurant is designed as a stepping stone for some, such as Vance Brendle.
The 43-year-old Mesa resident is bipolar and has fluctuating moods and anger outbursts. He has plans to open his own bar and grill in Flagstaff, and is gaining experience at Blue Ribbon Bistro as a storeroom clerk and grilling hamburgers, chicken breasts and hot dogs.
“I love cooking,” said Brendle, who previously worked in shipping and receiving and putting kits together at the Marc Center.
Although the challenge has been greater, Abdon Navarro, the food service director for both the bistro and the coffee shop, said it’s been a “fun place to come to work.”
“I’m able to see a side of business I’ve never seen before,” Navarro said.