One uplifting cafe making things equal for all
All Things Equal (ATE) is not just your typical Melbourne cafe. With the staff made up of 17 people with a disability and 25 without a disability they are changing the model and sparking new conversations.
While succeeding in providing a good cup of coffee and a warm meal, the café’s forte truly is its ability to create a positive environment and equal paid opportunities for all.
Not always in Jonathan Wenig’s game plan, the idea for the not-for-profit cafe came about when his daughter, who has autism, was getting ready to finish school.
“Tali, my daughter, had an affinity for cooking and so my wife and I thought it would be great if we could find some sort of opportunity for her to work or get experience in that area,” Mr Wenig said.
“We looked around and talked to a bunch of people and the conclusion we came to was that the best way of creating an environment which would be truly inclusive and where she could thrive might actually be to create our own.”
Now equipped with a board that Mr Wenig is co-chair of, the not-for-profit Balaclava cafe is approaching a year-and-a-half of being open and the difference the cafe has had on his daughter has only served to prove its impact.
“I think every parent worries about what is going to happen with their children and if their children are going to be happy and fulfilled, and just seeing that she is excited to come in and is motivated and energised by coming, that’s what every parent wants,” he said.
But the running of the cafe has not come without challenges, with further lockdowns hitting Melbourne shortly after their January 2021 opening.
Unable to run as a cafe, ATE “pivoted” when they were permitted to run cooking classes and programs for people with disabilities and the classes still continue to run in the afternoons and evenings to this day due to their positive outcome.
It’s made it clear to the staff and to ATE’s general manager Bianca Stern that the cafe is the start of something special.
“We provide an environment for exposure and to spark dialogue on something that has been taboo for the last X-number of years,” she said.
One of the beneficiaries are the people we support with a disability and their family but then the other is our local community and the wider society who also deserve to be educated on this.
Passionate about educating society on people with disabilities’ abilities, Ms Stern was driven to help people with disability to access mainstream work before All Things Equal had even started.
“It was ridiculously difficult to actually find them work and to work with potential employers because they hadn’t seen the model ever and they didn’t understand the benefits and that it was mutually beneficial,” she said.
Noting that All Things Equal was a model that proved to society how beneficial it could be, both Mr Wenig and Ms Stern are excited to expand their outreach and share their message further.
As well as involving themselves in the local community through the running of a kiosk at Princes Park for AJAX junior football club, ATE is approaching its first ever Giving Day fundraiser.
Run through Charidy Australia on Sunday, May 15, ATE is calling on all Melburnians in and around the city to come in and experience for themselves the life-changing impact they are having.
Anyone who donates on the day is also invited to come in and share in a free coffee.
Hopeful the event aids with funding the vision they have for the Balaclava site, Mr Wenig said the fundraising campaign also serves as an opportunity to “generate some more awareness” and to put the cafe in peoples’ front of mind.
When asked by Southbank News if ATE could be potentially opening another venue closer the CBD, Mr Wenig said while they had looked into it, they were really young and focusing on refining their business.
“Our first plan is to continue to refine what we are doing already and to make sure we are growing on a sustainable footing. We want to make sure we are set up, running well, that we have the structures right and people are getting the opportunity and training they need to be successful,” he said.
Not set on additional cafes always being their choice of expansion, due to people with disabilities all having different needs and capabilities, Mr Wenig said proving the model remains their first priority.
“If we have people who are employed here but then able to go and on the basis of having this job on their resume find employment elsewhere, we see that as a mode of expansion,” he said.
“One of the dangers with disability is we see people being defined entirely by their disability and it’s just not the truth, that’s just one aspect of who they are. They also have abilities, they have things they can do, and they are also people who want to have a job, achieve a measure of independence and have a chat with people they meet in a work setting.”
Walking into All Things Equal, there is no denying the cafe is an uplifting place to be and it’s a place where good conversations are to be had over an equally good coffee.
One can only hope ATE paves their way into the city with a little bit more encouragement and support, because when there is a place excelling at celebrating everything that makes humans different, it would only be right for there to be more of them.
All Things Equal can be found at 263 Carlisle St, Balaclava •