The catering company Regina offers opportunities for people with cognitive disabilities

Jessica Burns, Lisa Gelsinger, Bonnie Maystruck and Rick Morrell in the kitchen at Munch Catering in Regina.  (Samanda Brace/CBC News - photo credit)

Jessica Burns, Lisa Gelsinger, Bonnie Maystruck and Rick Morrell in the kitchen at Munch Catering in Regina. (Samanda Brace/CBC News – photo credit)

A Regina-based catering company that employs people with cognitive disabilities is cooking a coffee shop and mobile food truck while expanding its nonprofit social enterprise.

Munch Catering’s mission is to train its employees to work in the hospitality and food industry with catering jobs above minimum wage.

Emily Tarr and Gwen Herman founded Munch Catering in 2016 after seeing a need for training in getting people with disabilities paid for their work.

“People used to think they didn’t have to pay people with a disability a fair wage, so they wanted to pay a fair wage. And we do. We’ve been doing that ever since,” said Rick Morrell, managing director of Munch Catering.

Statistics Canada reported that in 2017, 59 percent of working-age Canadians determined to have a disability were employed. Munch Catering is trying to change that.

“The advantage for the employer is that they end up with someone who is absolutely competent at their job, absolutely reliable and will not go because, you know, as soon as someone who has been denied access to the labor market has found their place has, they’re going to stay,” Morrell said.

New space, new possibilities

Munch Catering moved into the SaskAbilities office building in January.

Morrell said that while the old location had the equipment needed for catering and flexible rental terms, the kitchen was a shared space in a basement, making it difficult to load vehicles for events.

A separate room and a seating area offer the opportunity to expand.

Morrell is looking for new employees as he plans to open a coffee shop for SaskAbilities customers and employees and have a food truck for summer events.

The registered charity already hosts conferences and events, and has drive-through pickups where people can order in advance and pick up food.

Submitted by Jessica Burns

Submitted by Jessica Burns

Munch Catering also has the Double Impact program, where two contract workers with cognitive disabilities enroll in a six-week training course and prepare food that is donated to community organizations like Rainbow Youth Center and North Central Family Centre.

Self-confidence grows with competence training

Going out for deliveries and catering events is one of the best parts of the job, according to Lisa Gelsinger, one of four catering assistants.

“It gets you out there and stuff. So yeah, it’s actually kind of cool,” Gelsinger said.

Building on her grandma’s love of baking, Gelsinger started working at Munch Catering in October. Her favorite foods are cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods.

Samanda Brace/CBC News

Samanda Brace/CBC News

Morrell, who took up his position at Munch Catering in January, said he’s seen Gelsinger and others build confidence while mingling at catering events.

“I’ve only been here a month and a half myself, but in that time I’ve seen amazing growth in some of our people,” Morrell said.

“It just touches me. i’m new right? So it really moves me to think about the growth I’ve already seen and the stories I’ve heard.”

Success after Munch

Gelsinger said she’s not sure what her next job will be, but she knows Munch Catering job developer Jessica Burns will help her.

Burns helps employees find what they enjoy most. She finds them jobs mainly in the food industry, but not if they’d rather work outside of a kitchen.

Submitted by Jessica Burns

Submitted by Jessica Burns

Burns said 25 people took other jobs after Munch, including one that went to Everyday Kitchen and two that went to Koko Patisserie.

build up trust

Catering Manager Bonnie Maystruck took a break from making taco salads and washing dishes and reflected on her six years at Munch Catering, beginning with her start as a volunteer.

She said the biggest challenge has been adjusting during the COVID-19 pandemic when events have been canceled, but with community support, business has persevered.

Maystruck said the support of the community and helping the auxiliary caterers learn new skills makes the job close to her heart.

“Confidence in their ability to get a job and be successful, that’s what it’s all about,” she said.


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