By Ted Ryan
Along Fort Salonga Road is a quaint café, filled to the brim with baked pastries and freshly brewed coffee. But the best part of this shop isn’t the treats, it’s what the café is doing for the community.
Stacey Wohl is the founder and president of Cause Café, a small business that offers jobs to young adults with cognitive and developmental disorders, such as autism.
It is for this reason that Wohl and the staff at Cause Café have been named People of the Year by Times Beacon Record News Media.
Wohl got started in the coffee business through working sales in a newly acquired coffee company with her ex-husband. During her time working sales in this new business, she had her two children, Brittney, 19, and Logan, 17, who were both diagnosed with autism. Wohl eventually stopped working to take care of them.
In 2010, Wohl moved to Northport, where she founded her own nonprofit, called Our Own Place, after getting assistance from friends who were also in the nonprofit business. The company provides unique opportunities to special-needs children and their single parents. The organization’s ultimate mission is to open a weekend respite home for families of children with cognitive disabilities that will provide job training and socialization skills to its residents.
Two years later, Wohl started her own coffee business, Our Coffee with a Cause Inc., a business that employs individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, and funds local charities that support them. It was created in response to the growing concern for special-needs individuals on Long Island who are aging out of schools to find job opportunities and a learning environment to acquire real-life skills.
And on May 7, Wohl opened Cause Café in Fort Salonga.
Alex Alvino, the head chef of Cause Café said he appreciates the chance Wohl has offered to not only him, but to those with special needs as well.
“Stacey’s been great,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m thankful for her for giving me this opportunity; it’s such a humbling experience to be a part of this. I really think this place has potential, and within a couple of months, it’s just going to take off.”
Wohl’s children are both actively involved in the café as well.
Brittney works at the café after school and on weekends where she busses tables, frosts cupcakes and assists Wohl in instructing a cupcakes class the café offers. Logan busses tables, works behind the counter and takes out the garbage.
Wohl said she is looking to change the business model of the Cause Café into a nonprofit so it can offer more opportunities, like the ones her children have, for those with disabilities.
“It makes sense for us and for the business model so that we can hopefully get grants and donations to be able to hire more kids with special needs,” she said.
And the demand for jobs for young adults with disabilities is high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was about twice that of those without disabilities.
Wohl can vouch for the need of more jobs for the disabled — she experiences it first hand regularly.
“I get three or four calls a day, or people walking in with their resumes, or parents walking in for their child, or job coaches coming in, all asking me for jobs,” she said. “And we need to get more customers first before we can hire more people,” said Wohl.
Dorina Barksdale is one of the parents whose child, Johnathan, was able to find work at the café.
“Johnathan loves his job, and he feels accepted and wants to work at the café,” she said in a phone interview. “I see Stacey twice a week, she’s compassionate and offers a family atmosphere for Johnathan to work in. Stacey wants to make a difference for my son as well as for other kids with disabilities who want to work.”
Wohl said she believes the reception of the Cause Café has been good, especially during its early months, but acknowledges the fact the number of opportunities for those with special needs is dependent on the demand for business.
“The community was very supportive of us the first few months when we opened, and we just need to remind them again that we are here,” said Wohl.
Even though owning a business such as this comes with difficulties, Wohl has no doubt that the rewards outweigh the risks.
“When you come in here, you see that you are giving a kid a job that might not have a job. … When you are buying it [coffee] from us, you are helping to employ someone that would be sitting home otherwise and not having an opportunity to work,” she said.