Jimmy is not someone who defines people with labels or assigns predetermined ideas of what others can and cannot do.
“Everyone is different. Everyone has a disability in some way. So what? Why label some people that have got this as disabled?” Jimmy said.
Jimmy and his manager Megan never thought their business would be a pillar of diversity and inclusion in the Caboolture Business Hub.
They also never thought a global pandemic would close their café for three and a half months just after opening. But here we are.
That is how the tables turned for the dynamic duo serving up coffee, sandwiches, and croissants at Benny’s Café.
Soldiering on, Jimmy manned the café for more than 12 months until he decided it was time to get some help.
Around this time, EPIC Assist (EPIC) contacted Jimmy and Megan to see if they would like to incorporate more diverse hiring practices in their business.
EPIC is a Disability Employment Services (DES) provider helping people with injuries, disabilities, health conditions, and mental health conditions find and maintain work.
At first, there was some hesitancy.
“My wife thought this would be too much work, and I’m like, nah, we gotta do this,” Jimmy said.
“I literally do not know why. I just thought, well, why not give it a go? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Since connecting with EPIC, Jimmy has hired three people with a disability or mental health condition. He has big plans in the works to hire more people with disability and give them a chance to be part of an inclusive and supportive work environment.
But it’s his first hire, Lorenzo, that really sticks out to him as the beginning of something new and exciting.
“Lorenzo couldn’t speak; he is deaf. I thought it was going to be a challenge, but it was quite cool,” Jimmy said.
Lorenzo had been knocked back from job after job. No employer had been willing to give him a go. They assumed it would be too difficult or Lorenzo wouldn’t be capable of doing the work, just because he had a disability.
That is, until Jimmy decided to say yes.
For eight months, it was just Jimmy and Lorenzo manning the café.
Anyone who has ever worked in hospitality before knows of that moment when all the customers come rushing in one big drove and flock for their daily caffeine hit and meal. It’s flat out, often stressful, and sometimes a chaotic mess.
Knowing that Lorenzo had the back sorted while Jimmy manned the front was a relief.
It wasn’t long before Lorenzo graduated from out the back to table service.
“Lorenzo was all keen to run meals from the start. He’d tap me on the shoulder and go, let’s go. I used to follow him out at the start, but then I just left him,” Jimmy said.
Lorenzo wasn’t going to let his disability stand in the way of communicating with customers. With a few simple adjustments, it was all a-go.
“All the regulars used to chat with him and do sign language. He’d go out there and serve the regulars by just writing on paper, ‘how can I help you?’
“And that’s where it all started, and the regular customers were like, this is pretty cool.”
When it came time for Lorenzo to move on to a new and exciting opportunity, Jimmy said it was “a no-brainer” to contact EPIC Assist again.
“That is when we got Janelle,” he said.
Five years ago, the idea of having a job, let alone a place to live, felt like an impossible dream for Janelle. She was homeless and alone amid a mental health and drug crisis.
Just over one year ago, Janelle was referred to EPIC , and that’s when things started to change.
Despite being a little green around the edges, Jimmy knew Janelle was someone he could give a shot to.
When Janelle found out she’d got the job at Benny’s Café, she was shocked.
“I didn’t think I was worth anything. I didn’t think that I would ever work again or anything. I wasn’t doing it. But I can. I can do it. I have to put my mind to it,” Janelle said.
“So, I gave it a shot. I was really scared. Every day I was working myself up and I was making myself sick before I even came in here.
“The whole night before, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta work tomorrow. Oh, I hope I don’t stuff up; I hope I don’t do this wrong.’ And that’s all that would go through my brain.
“It doesn’t do that anymore! I don’t do that anymore. And I get to work. I’m actually excited to come to work every day. I’m here at like 8:30 sometimes, really early.”
It took some time for Janelle to stick the landing, but Jimmy explained that Janelle got the hang of it through time and practice.
“She’s gone leaps and bounds since she started,” he said.
“Her first week, her anxiety just went through the roof. You could see it in her. She didn’t have the confidence to do what she does today.
But look at her now. She knows what she needs to do every morning when she comes in. Sandwiches, croissants, whatever. And you don’t have to tell her.”
Through his employment journey, Jimmy remembers what it is like to be thrown into the deep end of a new job and have to sink or swim, something he refuses to do with his staff.
“I’m not that person that’s going to let the staff members drown,” he said.
“Janelle does freak out a bit. So, we’ve agreed that she taps us on the shoulder and puts a hand up to go for five.
I said to her, go out for five. Yeah, go for a walk, ’cause that’s what I used to do when I was stressed.”
Now that the team is sorted, Jimmy and Megan are gearing up for their next big move.
The details are still under lock and key, but Jimmy let slip that the “empire is expanding with more EPIC people coming on board.”
“I’ve dealt with almost every employment agency, and I think EPIC is the one for me. They’re not the ones who chuck people in the jobs and go, ‘who cares.’
They’re continuously checking up. That’s one thing I love about EPIC, that contact and communication,” said Jimmy.
“Once we start growing, we’ll get more and more EPIC people. We’ll get more people with disabilities in the workplace.”
Wrapping up our interview with Jimmy, he had one last message to share.
“I’d say to any business thinking of hiring someone with a disability to give it ago. You’ve got nothing to lose. And you’ve got a hell of a lot to gain,” he said.
If your business is looking to incorporate diverse hiring practices, contact EPIC today.