52 cafes in the Netherlands! Behind the popularity of a café chain where people with Down syndrome work | FRIDAY DIGITAL

52 cafes in the Netherlands! Behind the popularity of a café chain where people with Down syndrome work

December 4-10 is Human Rights Week. How Brownies and Downies, a café chain where people with developmental disabilities also work, has expanded to 52 locations in the Netherlands.

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Brownies and Downies is a café-restaurant that started in 2010 and is staffed by people with developmental disabilities. According to the founder, “the target (of the service) is not customers or consumers, but employees” (Photo: Ryoukai Miko).

High customer satisfaction” surpassing that of McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza

In Alkmaar, a suburb of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where I visited to cover soccer, I entered a café called Brownies and Downies. The café was spacious enough that I didn’t have to worry about making phone calls, and there was a large table where I could spread out my computer and use the power and Wi-Fi. The music was playing quietly, and the decor looked nice and comfortable at first glance.

As I sat down, a woman in a wheelchair came to take my order. She was able to understand my English order without difficulty, as I could not speak Dutch. However, her face and limbs were paralyzed, making conversation difficult, and she couldn’t seem to move her arms and legs as expected. Nevertheless, she confirmed my order by operating the tablet installed in her wheelchair and playing the pre-recorded voice, and went back to the kitchen.

As I watched her back, I understood that the restaurant was spacious enough for a wheelchair to easily pass through, and that the music was not too loud to facilitate smooth conversation. Soon after, she appeared with the coffee I had ordered. She was not holding the coffee in her hand, but a tray was placed in front of the wheelchair, and the customer had to lift the tray and carry it to the table.

As I sipped my coffee, I looked at the information booklet on the table and finally realized that the name of the restaurant, Downey’s, was not the same as the name of the restaurant. The name of the restaurant, Downey’s, refers to Down syndrome. A closer look at the store revealed a number of staff members who looked like they had Down syndrome. The atmosphere was not too clean as if they were doing social welfare work, nor were they trying to hide anything. I still vividly remember how surprised I was when I first visited two years ago.

Brownies and Downies is a café-restaurant that started in 2010 in Feher, the Netherlands, and is staffed by people with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome. We are a for-profit company,” says founder Tys Swinkels, “and our goal is to provide care that does not rely on government subsidies or donations. We are a for-profit company,” says founder Tice Swinkels, “and our target is not customers or consumers, but employees.

In other words, the business is to provide a place where employees with developmental disabilities can work in peace and receive fair compensation, and 90% of the operating costs are not dependent on subsidies or donations. The company actively employs people with developmental disabilities, most of whom have Down Syndrome, but this is not limited to them.

As of 2021, it is a large chain with a total of 52 stores throughout the Netherlands and one in Belgium. There used to be one in Cape Town, South Africa, but it had to be closed after the Covid-19 disaster caused the loss of subsidies. Nevertheless, the fact that the number of restaurants has increased, and that they have become popular with the general public, as well as the high level of satisfaction, is evident by the fact that they have won the Grand Prix at the Food Service Awards for the restaurant industry in the Netherlands in 2020 and 2009.

Twenty-six companies participated in the 21st year of the awards, with global chains such as McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, and Subway also winning awards in consecutive years. In particular, this year’s award was based not only on price and service, but also on the way the Covid-19 disaster was handled, with a significant number of users (about 17,000) voting anonymously. It shows how the cafe satisfies its customers as an “ordinary” cafe, not as a “special” cafe.

The high quality of the food and drinks that Swinkel insists on, as well as the fact that it is a welfare business and not a business in itself, are the characteristics of this café, “That’s why we can compete with the major coffee chains in the Netherlands,” Swinkel said. This is why we are able to compete with the major coffee chains in the Netherlands,” Swinkel said. However, when I think about why this café has been accepted by such a large chain, I wonder if the Dutch culture, which I can only guess at, is the reason why Brownie & Downy’s has been accepted in the first place. If we demand perfect customer service, it will surely not be possible.

The scene in the store in August, when the Covid-19 infection situation in the Netherlands had calmed down a bit. The woman in front of me in a wheelchair was using a tablet to encourage people to disinfect their hands and feet and ask them to fill in their names and contact information.

Visitors from Germany and Belgium also came to see the store.

So, one day in August this year, when Covid-19 was quiescent, I requested an interview at the Alkmaar store. When I visited the store, she was in a wheelchair, and I found her at the reception desk. By operating a tablet and playing a voice, she urged customers to sterilize their hands with alcohol and asked them to fill in their names and contact information. There were times when she was assisted by staff and other times when she was left alone.

Barbara Schaper, co-owner of the Alkmaar store, who agreed to be interviewed, told us, “She has a Covid-19 infection.

Barbara Schaper, co-owner of the Alkmaar store, tells me, “She was completely intimidated by the Covid-19 disaster, by meeting people and serving customers. But little by little, she got used to people, and now she can do reception like that.

I still avoid crowds and don’t go to crowded restaurants. I still avoid crowds and don’t go to crowded restaurants, especially for the girls who take a lot of risks.

Barbara joined the Brownies and Downies franchise in 2016. She has been working as a caregiver since her brother had a brain injury. However, feeling the limitations of public services, she turned to running a café. He decided to join Brownie’s and Downie’s because he could relate to their philosophy.

He said, “People with disabilities live in a very limited community and have very few opportunities to interact with the general public. So I wanted to provide them with that opportunity. Furthermore, if we can make it a successful business, they can become economically and mentally independent. There is a limit to what public services can do to help them, so we wanted to make a business out of it ourselves.

Working in a café brings you into contact with a lot of customers. Working in a café, you will come into contact with many customers, and you will also come into contact with people with disabilities, and people with other types of disabilities that you would not normally have contact with. It is also a place for them to grow and learn by giving them responsibilities. Barbara and her sister-in-law rented a former warehouse site along the canal and started the store. Her brother also works with her.

On the day I visited, students from the caregiver request school were there as part of a social studies field trip. They were chatting with the staff with Down syndrome and singing songs. Even though the Netherlands has a high level of welfare awareness, there are not many stores or workplaces where people with disabilities can work together in such a natural way. For this reason, the store is visited by many visitors not only from the Netherlands but also from Germany and Belgium.

It has been five years since the store opened. Barbara says that her future goal is to get more staff with disabilities out of the store. Recently, she started asking the wheelchair-bound woman mentioned above to go to the other side of the canal by herself to pick up her dry cleaning. She can barely speak or walk, and it is hard to imagine what would happen if her wheelchair fell over or ran into a traffic light, but Barbara says, “There is nothing I can’t do. If it were just a business, she would not be able to do such a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. After all, it is clear that the workplace is designed for the employees from their perspective.

After I finished talking with Barbara, I was cleaning up my stuff and drinking coffee when a staff member with Down Syndrome came up to me and said in a friendly manner, “How was your coffee? “How was your coffee?” “You can use a computer, can’t you? “How was your coffee?” “You can use a computer, can’t you? The coffee and food are always good, and the staff is always friendly. The coffee and food are always good, the staff is always friendly, and you leave the store with a kind feeling. And now that the Paralympic Games have been held, I irresponsibly wondered if it would be possible to build a café like this in Japan.

A list of 52 cafes spread across the Netherlands. They are spread evenly across the country, without any regional bias.
Coffee is delicious when savored slowly. But more than that, there is a unique atmosphere that gives you a gentle feeling when you leave the store.
  • Interview, writing, photography Yoshiko Ryokai

    Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1975. She graduated from the Department of History, Faculty of Letters, Japan Women's University, and began covering soccer in 2001, and became a writer after covering the 2003 World Youth Cup (now the U-20 World Cup) in the UAE. Has covered four World Cups and three Summer Olympics, and has been living in Dusseldorf, Germany since March 11, 2011.

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