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Brownies & DownieS: Cape Town’s new coffee-shop and training centre for people with intellectual disabilities

Brownies & DownieS was first begun in 2010 in Veghel, the Netherlands, when two friends, chef Teun Horck and special-needs school teacher, Thijs Swinkels, wanted to create job opportunities in hospitality for people with disabilities. The pair then successfully launched Brownies & DownieS, a non-profit coffee-shop concept with a focus on quality food, awareness, and offering training experience and employment for the intellectually challenged. The company has since opened almost 30 stores in the Netherlands and, on 8 February 2016, a branch in South Africa’s Mother City.

The interior of Cape Town's Brownies & DownieS.

The interior of Cape Town’s Brownies & DownieS.

Brownies & DownieS Cape Town offers a happy and bright space for guests to enjoy cafe-style eats and delicious brews by Truth Coffee. The dishes on the menu are prepared, cooked and served by the enthusiastic staff as a training programme for them to learn the ins and outs of the hospitality business, with a view to open up future opportunities for them in service, food preparation and management.

The owner and founder of the new branch, Wendy Vermeulen, made her way from the Netherlands to complete a social work internship in South Africa during 2010, and decided to stay in the city after completing her degree. Like the two original founders, Wendy realised that there was a lack of facilities for people with intellectual disabilities in South Africa, with these youths often completing school at the age of 18 and struggling to find employment thereafter. Wendy became increasingly aware of the fear and stigma around interacting with people with intellectual disabilities and searched for a solution, and so Brownies & DownieS Cape Town was born.

One of the staff at Brownies & DownieS. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

One of the staff at Brownies & DownieS. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Wendy explains, “Our mandate is to improve the quality of life for the intellectually challenged, and to evolve the South African societal views and acceptance of these individuals into society. We want to create welcoming atmosphere of love and acceptance in every outlet, and provide exceptional quality of food and dining experiences to our customers.”

From the looks of things, Brownies & DownieS Cape Town is well on the way to achieving its aims, and that the staff are happy and proud to work there. Manager Wade Schultz and Wendy are hands-on with running the restaurant alongside the team, assisting with training and encouragement.

A breakfast dish at Brownies & DownieS. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

A breakfast dish at Brownies & DownieS. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Brownies & DownieS menu offers a range of breakfasts, sandwiches, light lunches, burgers and pastries. We can recommend their signature chocolate brownie, a ridiculously addictive treat that’s totally worth the sugar intake. Office workers in the area are also welcome to place orders for takeaway lunches.

There have been a few questions with regards to the name of the café. Wendy explains, “the name was created by parents in the Netherlands who are parents of young adults with down syndrome. Before we took it over to South Africa, we talked to a lot of parents at the Down Syndrome Association Western Cape, and they are fine with the name. They say it is not about the name, it is about the fact that there is finally a place where they are accepted for who they are and where they can work.”

For those wanting to support this inspiring business and training centre (aside from becoming a regular, that is), there are a number of ways to do so. Head over to their website for find out more: browniesdownies.co.za.

17 February 2016: this article was edited to remove the suggestion that this cafe is the first of it’s kind in Cape Town. Coffee Time in Gardens also provides training and work for people with mental disabilities and illnesses.

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