Lillian’s Cafe

JCC Rockland – Jewish Community Center Rockland County
450 W Nyack Rd, West Nyack, NY 10994
Phone: (845) 215-7055

“A kosher dairy café at the JCC in Rockland County, NY, staffed by people with disabilities. Menu is vegan and vegetarian friendly with many gluten free options; kitchen is nut free.”

My Visit: August, 2019:

I parked in the very busy parking lot of the JCC, entered through the main entrance and fairly easily found the café, just beyond the information desk on the left side. There was a lot of action in the JCC this particular day with the summer camp holding its song festival. I was impressed with both the taste and price of the cookies, bagels and coffee on the menu ($2 for a chocolate chip cookie—what a bargain!). The acting manager explained that people with disabilities do all aspects of work in the café from food prep, to cash register. I observed a young man meticulously cleaning tables and chairs in the area where customers sit; he was receiving patient guidance from his job coach.

Program History: Interview with Michele Koenig, Director of Clinical Programs (Rockland Jewish Family Service)

Ms. Koenig reports that there has historically been a high turnover of food service vendors/cafes, with five coming and going in a ten-year period. Michele and her team saw this as an opportunity to “take the plunge” and create a program which would train participants in cooking and baking. They selected young adults with disabilities from their program for training, to work alongside workers without disabilities. They run the café and cater small catering jobs both within and outside of the building. Lessons learned from what at the time was four months in operation are shared below.

Our Story (From Website):

Lillian Adler was a woman of great valor and generosity. She believed in building community while making the world a better place for all. It is with this spirit that Lillian’s Café was born.
Lillian’s Café is a unique program designed to employ individuals on the Autism Spectrum. We provide job training and real work experience to enhance the strengths and potential of each member of our workforce. Our employees hold themselves to the highest standard of food service and customer relations, skills that will translate to future careers in hospitality, business, and other ventures.
We believe in using fresh, wholesome ingredients and take pride in each meal we serve. We strive to make food that is convenient and delicious while enriching the lives of our employees and our customers. At Lillian’s Café, our goal is to nourish our bodies, our spirits, and our community.
We know there are many places you can choose for a good meal. When you choose Lillian’s, you get a great meal and the satisfaction that comes from helping others. What could be better!

Lessons Learned:

  • Costs: startup costs and staffing costs are high. A program supporting people with disabilities requires additional staffing which adds to overall costs.
  • It is useful to work with Access VR (voc rehab) but there is a maximum allotment per person (which gets used up quickly, and other funding sources must but identified)
  • It is helpful working in the JCC building as rent-arrangement is ideal and there is a built in customer base.
  • Graduate students from local universities provide useful additional help as they work with the trainees
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