SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — The sign says it all.
“Madison’s Café; where all people matter.”
The eatery in downtown South Berwick opened April 8, and is a breakfast and lunch restaurant that puts an emphasis on employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Co-owner Nicole Grant McCoomb said she got the idea for the cafe when she saw a Facebook post by a couple in Florida who started one for their two children with Down Syndrome, so when they grow up they will have a place to work.
“As is down there, the same as here, the unemployment rate for kids who have developmental disabilities is horrible,” McCoomb said. “So having my daughter Madison who is 18 and developmentally delayed across the board, I decided I wanted to do something similar to that.”
Grinning with dimples as bookends to her smile, Brook Johnson, 21, said she’s excited about her new job.
“I’m a greeter, so I welcome the customers in,” Johnson said. “I used to work at the Marshwood cafeteria.”
Jill Rowell from Work Opportunities Unlimited says her organization works with small businesses to help them find employees.
Business partner/owner Sean Roy said he is excited about the experience.
“When Nicole approached me with the idea, I thought it was fantastic,” Roy said. “After meeting her daughter and everything that she goes through, I thought it was the best thing for me to do to help people with disabilities.”
Pumped with enthusiasm, Grant McCoomb said the opening has been “the most amazing experience.
“We’ve had excellent customers who are raving about the food and everyone is excited and happy,” she continued. “The staff has been amazing and so thrilled to be here. Everyone is pitching in and it’s one big happy family today. For the people working, we are going to work on their strengths and once they are comfortable in one position we will move them around to do something else so they will all be able to do everything.”
With the sounds of Tom McCoomb singing Frank Sinatra tunes in the background, Madison McCoomb, whom the restaurant was named after, said she likes the place.
“I worked behind the counter and people are really nice,” she said.
The teen’s black-rimmed glasses and lovable smile blended in with the flowers in the background. When asked if there was anything she wanted to say to her fans on opening day, she said in a shy, yet decisive tone, “No. Well, come and see me sometime,” she said as the crowd around her laughed warmly.