Cafe with a conscience
Hobart’s social enterprise Hamlet Café is a stepping stone for people looking for work in the hospitality industry.
If you call in to Hobart’s busy Hamlet Café on any Monday morning you’re likely to be served by Alix, a lively and popular staff member who is greeted enthusiastically by regulars pausing to pick up a coffee on their way to work.
Until she started work at Hamlet Café, Alix’s disability had been a barrier to finding work. Now she is thriving.
Hamlet Café is a not for profit social enterprise that aims to provide Tasmanians who have had trouble finding work with hands on training in hospitality skills, confidence and practical work experience.
‘One of the things we do here is try to make connections with our local community from the food we source; to who we employ; to how we treat our customers.’
Hamlet café manager and co-founder Emily Briffa.
The cafe opened in February 2016. Manager and co-founder Emily Briffa says its goal was to offer experience and training in hospitality to 20 newly arrived migrants and long-term unemployed people.
Just six months on, 25 trained volunteers have left the café for paid work in a range of jobs in both hospitality and beyond. ‘We were blown away,’ Emily says.
An approach from a parent got them thinking about expanding their volunteer pool. ‘A woman approached us who had a daughter who had Downs Syndrome and she asked us to see if we could help get her daughter some work experience. We decided to take her on and we found that it was a beautiful opportunity for us to work with people with mental or physical disabilities.’
‘Our aim is to build a sense of community, a space that is safe where people can grow and evolve and begin a new chapter of their lives. Both our volunteers and their parents think what we’re doing here is amazing. We have volunteers who work here as well as in paid jobs because they love being here. They make friends, they meet new people, and quite a few of the parents have told me they never thought their child would be as independent as they see them being here.
‘We treat everyone the same here apart from the fact that some require one-on-one attention. It’s a beautiful experience for the volunteers we have working for us because quite often they have been stuck in jobs that are quite monotonous and not necessarily very socially engaging, whereas working in hospitality you get to meet all sorts of people every day and it’s highly social.’
The community also benefits from the social enterprise. ‘Our customers are exposed to people they don’t generally see working in hospitality.’
As part of their training volunteers come in for a few hours in either the mornings or afternoons and shadow an experienced staff member.
‘They might like to work in the kitchen or out front. So if they want to work in the kitchen they start with prep out back. If they want to work out front they start by taking out orders, taking out coffees, and then moving on up so they are working independently.
‘Each time I go back it feels a lot more comfortable and I feel more familiar and I notice staff don’t feel they have to prompt or remind me how to do things anymore. It’s been good to take charge and just develop through practise.’
Doug, Hamlet volunteer.
‘Our four stage training program is totally dependent on the skill level of the volunteers. Some high needs volunteers get a separate program. We provide people with training in basic skills such as showing up on time, wearing a uniform, and working as a team.
‘We work with a few different organisations such as Parkside Foundation and Epic Assist who send their clients through to get work experience with us. Each week, we send them updates on how people are going and any issues that arise or ways they can offer support and assistance.’
Not all of their volunteers will go on to full time work in hospitality. ‘Some people’s ADHD or autism might prevent them from working full time in a café or restaurant but working with us at Hamlet provides them with a real confidence boost, occupies their time in a really positive way and connects them with other people.’
Emily would love to see more businesses trying this approach. ‘I think providing work experience to people from all walks of life is really important especially in Tassie there’s such a sense of community here so why not try to help each other out as much as we possibly can?’
The Tasmanian Government recently backed Hamlet Café with a $80,000 grant to take an additional 50 people facing barriers to employment, including 10 with disabilities. Hamlet Café is one of 27 projects sharing in $2.46 million worth of funding as part of the Government’s Training and Work Pathway Program.
Doug took a break from work in the community service sector two years ago and has found it hard to get anything other than casual work so his confidence has taken a bit of a beating. Doug was nervous on his first day at Hamlet Café. ‘I tend to be a bit shy and reserved.’ But the staff soon put him at ease. ‘They are very friendly and approachable and they don’t make a big deal if you make mistakes. If you muck up they say, “It’s fine, it’s just part of the learning process. Next time, try it this way.” They really encourage you to get back on the horse and have another go.’
Having another go for Doug has meant learning the ropes in the café rather than in the kitchen. ‘I do front of house mostly so I’ve had training in taking orders, waiting on and serving people. At the moment they are teaching me how to be a barista and the ins and outs of the coffee machine.’
One month in and Doug is much more confident than when he started. ‘I’ve learned new skills like carrying a tray with three coffees on it and not spilling any, and bridging, which is where you carry two plates on one arm. I can use the till and handle money, as well as use the tablet, paywave and that sort of thing.
‘I like the relaxed atmosphere of the Hamlet team. They see their role as helping and encouraging and teaching so it’s a very safe and comfortable space to go to. I also like the free lunch I get during my shift,’ Dough laughs. ‘I’m enjoying working my way through the menu.’
When he saw a story in the local news about Hamlet Café, Doug volunteered as a way of getting back into the community again. A single parent, Doug currently works two shifts a week to fit in around his childcare responsibilities.
Doug says Hamlet has helped him come out of his shell. ‘I’ve been a bit socially isolated since I haven’t been working so I really like the networking, getting to know the Hamlet team and the other volunteers and seeing the familiar faces of regular customers. It’s been great in helping me break out of that bubble of isolation where for a long while I’ve only seen a limited number of people.
‘I’m hoping to get into the hospitality industry locally. I’ve taken my resume around before but without experience employers are not that excited to hear from you. With recent and relevant experience and a reference from Emily who I’m hoping will vouch for me I think I’ve got a much better chance. Hobart’s a small town and the hospitality industry is even smaller so I’m hoping I’ll benefit from those contacts.’
‘Last weekend I had my first day off in months and I ended up being here all day finishing a few maintenance jobs I wanted to get done. I can’t keep away. I absolutely love this place and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.’
Hamlet Café manager and co-founder Emily Briffa.
Salamanca Market by Jes Mugley, CC BY-SA 2.0
See the full issue of Quest 4, 2016