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Cause Café

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Stacey Wohl, center, with her daughter at her shop Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in Wading River. Photo from Wohl

By Leah Chiappino

Local entrepreneur Stacey Wohl has moved her store, Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique, which first opened Nov. 22, from its original East Northport location to Wading River Square. Despite the change in location, it still has the same mission, to give people with disabilities a chance at employment.

In 2015, Wohl opened Cause Cafe in Northport, a restaurant that employed people on the autism spectrum, with the help of her parents, Susan and Gerald Schultz. Her interest in doing so was taken from her own two children, Brittney, 22, and Logan, 20, both of whom have autism.

Wohl says the business struggled because of the lack of a nonprofit being able to subsidize the rent. Her children were unable to work in the kitchen as the environment could get chaotic, and it grew very loud. 

“When you own a business, you have to do everything, and I am not a chef,” Wohl said. “It was a very large undertaking that we weren’t prepared for.”

Despite putting her best efforts into it, Wohl was forced to shut down the restaurant when it was not able to sustain itself and personal tragedy struck. In 2016, Cause Cafe was featured on the Rachel Ray Show, which sent Wohl on a cruise with her children and parents. Two days into the trip, her father had a heart attack while dancing with her mother on the ship and passed away. 

When the family returned home, Wohl closed the doors, as she felt the need to care for her mother, who was mourning the loss of a husband of 55 years.

Wohl’s first love is fashion, having been a showroom salesperson, fit model and boutique owner in her 20s, so she opened Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in East Northport. However, tragedy struck again when her mother passed away three weeks later. Wohl relocated to Wading River after her daughter got accepted to a day program in Abequogue.

“I saw the need for a place like this,”
Wohl said. 

The front of the store has a coffee bar with repackaged baked goods to take home, complete with inspirational coffee mugs for sale. The back of the store is filled with apparel and gifts that mostly come from women-owned companies and charitable causes. There is local artwork for sale as well as her own coffee brand. 

“I want the store to be a place where people go to buy a gift, and not just feel like they are doing something for charity,” Wohl said. 

Recently the business has been struggling. Business boomed over Christmas, but after the holidays business slowed down. 

“I only sold one $3 dollar cup of coffee today,” Wohl said. However, she affirms the community has been very supportive. Wohl hopes that people will make the store their go-to place to grab a cup of coffee and is even looking to expand to have art classes and job training. She is also hoping to make a clothing line from her former fashion background. 

“I lost that part of myself in [dedicating myself to my children] for the past 20 years.”

The boutique is located at 6278 Building A, #2 along Route 25A in Wading River and is open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 5.p.m. Online ordering is also available through the boutique’s website at www.becauseboutiquecafe.com.  

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.

“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”

Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.

“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.

“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”

However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.

“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”

Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.

Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.

“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.

Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance  from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.

“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.

Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.

Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested  with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.

Stacey Wohl, at center, recently reopened the Cause Cafe, a restaurant that employs people with disabilities. Photo from Facebook

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport restaurateur is hoping the third time’s a charm as she attempts to blend together the best of two worlds in a newly opened Cause Cafe.

Stacey Wohl, former owner of Our Table, reopened her dining room on Fort Salonga Road Sept. 29 to bring back Cause Cafe. She hopes to pair her passion for fine food and wine with a supportive hands-on daytime-work environment for young adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

“I’m melding together both restaurants,” she said. “It will be an upscale eclectic Caribbean- and Mexican-inspired restaurant with food I like, but also supporting the cause.”

A patron at the new Cause Cafe bar. Photo from Facebook

Wohl first opened Cause Cafe in Spring 2016 as a small coffee shop offering breakfast foods, sandwiches and more. Inspired by her two children, Brittany and Logan who both have autism, she offered employment and hands-on job training to young adults with disabilities. Unfortunately, its doors closed in February 2017.

The small cafe was quickly transformed into Our Table, which focused on the trend of farm-to-table dining featuring local ingredients. But the upscale restaurant wasn’t a good match for the area, according to Wohl, who said she gained much from the experience.

“I learned that sometimes people just want comfort food,” she said. “I also wanted food that’s reasonably priced that I could take out for my kids, that’s also healthy.”

The restaurateur has decided to blend her former eateries together in the latest incarnation of Cause Cafe. The food will be prepared by a new chef, Seth Sloan, formerly of Hotel Indigo’s Bistro 72 in Riverhead.

Diners will find familiar dishes from Our Table’s brunch menu, according to Wohl, but the French toast gets a Caribbean-inspired makeover by adding some mango. During the day, there will be salads, wraps, paninis and baked goods,  served up by individuals with disabilities or available for takeout.

A menu item at Cause Cafe. Photo from Facebook

In the evenings, the former staff of Our Table will take over presenting upscale dishes such as marinated grass-fed skirt steak in a chimichurri sauce and pan-seared wild Salmon with a mango sauce. The drink menu features an extensive wine and beer selection now that the establishment has secured its liquor license.

“I’m a wine aficionado and love visiting the vineyards, but they require travel,” Wohl said. “Long Island has some amazing wines, but not many people know it.”

Her wine list includes Bedell Cellars as well as boutique bottles made by Anthony Nappa, who also works for Raphael in Peconic. Local beers available on tap include brews from Great South Bay Brewery, Greenpoint Beer and Ale, and Sand City Brewing.

“My goal is to open up multiple stores and get Cause Bakeries going again,” Wohl said.

She said she hopes to develop a chain of eateries that can combine job training for individuals with disabilities and a fine-dining experience.

In addition, Wohl said she wants to cultivate a business relationship with local wineries to expand the sale of baked goods made by young adults with disabilities in her shop, with proceeds going to nonprofits and organizations that help these individuals.

Staff members of Cause Café gather outside the front entrance. Photo from Stacey Wohl

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.

Staff members of Cause Café gather outside the front entrance. Photo from Stacey Wohl

Morning routines for residents in Huntington are about to get a little sweeter.

Fort Salonga’s Cause Café is the newest coffee shop working to bring jobs to young adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Stacey Wohl, founder and co-owner of the café, has run the Our Coffee with a Cause coffee brand business with her two children, Brittney and Logan, since it was founded in 2012. Cause Café will sell its coffee, as well as breakfast foods, sandwiches and more.

Brittney and Logan, who both have autism, were named co-owners of the business in November 2015, and will both be working at the coffee shop. The shop is a crucial resource for young adults with disabilities, the owner said.

Staff members cut the ribbon at the opening of Cause Café. Photo from Stacey Wohl
Staff members cut the ribbon at the opening of Cause Café along with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson. Photo from Stacey Wohl

“I started talking to other parents and they had no job opportunities for their young adults with autism,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

Although programs are set up for internships to work with nearby businesses, Wohl said they don’t translate into actual jobs.

“They fall off the cliff at about 22 years of age,” she said.

Aside from the kitchen staff and the counter manager, Wohl said every other employee at Cause Café is working with some form of a disability.

“I wanted a retail place where people saw the young adults with special needs and they were visible in the community,” Wohl said. “There are some companies who hire the disabled, but they are behind the scenes. [Here] they are right alongside with typical individuals in the community, doing some of the same jobs. They are involved in every aspect from the beginning.”

The founder said she is hoping to inspire other businesses to hire the disabled, and also expand this store into a chain, to create as many job opportunities as possible.

“I could open up 10 stores right now with the amount of people that want a job,” Wohl said. “I have parents calling me every day all the time, emailing, Facebook, calling. There are no jobs for kids with special needs.”

According to Disability Statistics, in 2014, 34.6 percent of Americans between the ages of 21-36 were employed. In New York, out of about 1.1 million residents with disabilities, only about 351,000 were employed.

The United States Census Bureau said between 2008 and 2010, individuals with disabilities accounted for 9.4 million, or 6 percent, of the approximate 155.9 million employed citizens.

In terms of what this coffee shop will offer to residents’ palettes, the choices are international and diverse.

The interior of Cause Café. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
The interior of Cause Café. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“I always wanted to go to France, so France came to me,” Wohl said of the theme of the shop and many of the items on the menu. She said the store is highlighting some products that “you can’t really find unless you go to Provence,” seeing as many items have been imported straight from that region in France.

Andrew Popkin, sous-chef at Cause Café, said that the menu features all homemade items that are both healthy and delicious. Popkin said the menu will have weekly seasonal specials, and some of the highlights for him include the buttermilk pancakes with maple butter syrup and the quiches.

“Our food is going to match up to [competitors] and, at the same time, you’re helping kids out who don’t usually have the opportunity to work,” Popkin said of why residents should stop in for a meal.

Cause Café is located at 1014 Fort Salonga Road and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting this Saturday, May 7.