London grocery store to train disabled staff

Old East Village Grocer will serve as a business incubator for small manufacturers

David Cook’s commitment to social responsibility extends much further than the fair-trade coffee he serves at his four-store coffee chain in London, Ont. In partnership with a 27-year-old NGO called ATN that specializes in helping train and find employment for physically and cognitively-challenged men and women, Cook is opening two more branches of his café. The first location will open in London’s Old East Village. There, in the historic Somerville Building, Cook will also open a market including a 5,000-sq.-ft. grocer called The Old East Village Grocer. “It’s mainly a small scale food market,” says Cook, 44, who spent 10 years working with Sobeys. “It will have a small scale deli, butcher and produce section.” Using experience gained from running London’s Western Fair Farmer’s Market, Cook intends to use the market as a business and employee incubator. The new store will give 40 people with disabilities the chance to learn on-the-job skills, including stocking shelves, dealing with customers and bagging groceries with the help of 10 core staff. “The idea is then we get them to move on–get them jobs in other enterprises,” says Vicki Mayer, ATN’s executive director. “We’ve been working on this project for about three years,” says Cook. “Development is not only about business–it’s about people, too. Most of the grocery business is looking for good staff. We’re training these people, and the customers are looking to make a difference with their dollars.” The first floor of the building will be revamped at the cost of $100,000 to become “The London Food Incubator”. It will also house an artisan market to allow small food manufacturers, like tortilla or granola-makers, to gain the experience needed to flourish outside the hospitable confines of the market. “In the past dozen years we have incubated many retailers (at the Western Fair market) from organic food companies to butchers and bakers and cheese shops,” says Cook. Fresh food will be a welcome addition, say Mayer and Cook, who are in partnership with a skills development organization called Pathways.

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