By Tia Clyburn
Fresh Abilities, one of the restaurants located inside COHatch Springfield, is celebrating its one-year anniversary.
The restaurant on Saturday is having a special to celebrate its success with customers. A free Schuler’s cupcake will come with the purchase of a salad or an acai bowl order during regular hours.
The restaurant serves fresh salads, wraps, soups and smoothies, and provides work opportunities for individuals with disabilities by providing skills and experience for future job success.
Opening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, said Bridget Doane, director of development and donor relations at the restaurant’s parent company, The Abilities Connection.
“It was certainly different than we had initially expected when we were doing all of our planning, throughout the construction process. We obviously had to shift our plans a little bit,” she said.
The restaurant was originally set to open in March 2020 but due to the lockdown had to be put on hold.
“We delayed our opening; our grand opening was supposed to take place in March, and then when the governor’s orders to shut down occurred, we delayed everything, and we had to frequently reconvene to say, ‘Okay, what is the best strategy moving forward? Do we open, do we not open?’ We had folks who were training for this for quite some time, and they were anxious to get to work,” Doane said.
Other questions were raised as everything was closed at the time, she said.
“Like, ‘What’s the feasibility of opening a restaurant when restaurants are limited to just takeout?’ and just limited to masks and things like that. So we went ahead and decided to open in June last year, and we’re really glad that we did, because in spite of some of the restrictions that we faced, it was great exposure to the community, and we met a lot of our initial goals,” Doane said.
In addition to the restaurant now being a favorite lunch spot in the community, the goal remains the same: to provide work training and opportunities for individuals who live with special needs or disabilities.
“The restaurant is associated with TAC (The Abilities Connection), which is our parent company, and we have a mission to empower people with disabilities and other barriers to achieve their full potential. So we have long been a vocational training and support organization for people with disabilities, and have provided employment opportunities and skills training. That’s our background, that type of service,” Doane said.
Many of the Fresh Abilities employees have gone on to be hired into successful careers, thanks to gaining experience and skills working at the restaurant.
“We quickly saw that a lot of our folks are being hired after going through the pipeline, and we’re really excited to see what the year brings as we have more folks going through the pathway,” Doane said.
For the latest information on what’s happening at Fresh Abilities, please visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.