Cockatoo Cafe perfectly blends family, passion, and inclusion

Thursday, 10 August 2023

Family is a huge part of our lives. For some of us, it’s the centre point of how we live – our job, our hobbies, our ways to de-stress, it all comes back to family.

No one holds this value closer to their hearts than Jae and Sandy, owners of the lovely Cockatoo Coffee Café in Maryborough.

The co-owners moved to the Fraser Coast region from Western Australia after quitting their jobs. Their journey began with eight months of traveling around Australia before deciding to settle down in Maryborough. As part of this transition to the stationary life, they’d brought a coffee van with them, hoping that it might make them a profit.

They had the dream, now all they needed was a name.

Something nice and snappy.

A way to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other places where someone could grab their morning coffee.

Poetic as it is, it was their family that held the solution to their dilemma.

After taking the issue of naming the van to their children, they were struck with an idea. The entire trip across Australia, the coffee van had been home to an ornate cockatoo sitting on the dashboard. So, to Jae and Sandy’s children, the naming of the van seemed obvious.

“Why don’t we name it Cockatoo café?” their eight-year-old had said.

And just like that, the business was born. After nine to ten months of running the coffee van, Jae and Sandy decided to open a fully-fledged café. Fast forward to the current day and they’ve been in business for just about a year now.

In their decision to expand, Jae and Sandy were more than happy to bring people on board but wanted to keep the family-oriented structure that had seen their business succeed up to this point. Those core family values of having close bonds with one another and providing constant support were the most important thing to them and was the first thing on their mind when it came to hiring staff.

As luck would have it,  they were about to find another member of the expanding Cockatoo Café family and a source for them to hire other potential staff. All through one of their regulars, a lovely lady by the name of Gwenda.

Gwenda working on decorating some delicious muffins.
Gwenda decorating her signature Cockatoo Cafe muffins.

“Gwenda came in for breakfast. We started to realise she was coming in every couple of days. I guess she more or less chose us before we chose her. Then we got approached by EPIC Assist. They said they had a lady that was interested in employment after seeing what we were all about. And that lady turned out to be Gwenda!” Jae exclaimed.

EPIC Assist (EPIC) is a local Disability Employment Services (DES) provider that connects job-ready people with disability with supportive and inclusive workplaces.

After bringing Gwenda on board, Jae and Sandy realised their new contacts at EPIC were more than happy to provide more job-ready employees to run trial shifts at the café. When they heard they would be providing work for people with disability, they jumped at the chance.

“We’ve all got our ups and downs, y’know. And it just made sense to figure out how to help them, and what their best environment is. It was a very natural progression for us. You need to work with them and identify the strengths they have. Now that we’ve gotten to know them, we can notice problems before they start to happen and tackle them.

“Everyone’s very upfront with the limitations they have, what steps we need to take to help them, how we can prevent it in the future, and what they’re capable of,” Jae and Sandy explained.

We asked the two why they thought it was important for people with disability to have meaningful employment, and they were quick to insist that it’s all about inclusivity and empathising with their position.

“Being separated from the world isn’t a good feeling. Seeing how these people feel and how they’re treated, you know that they deserve happiness. It makes us want to help them and treat them like human beings.”

The newfound family of Cockatoo Cafe

Gwenda, who had first introduced Jae and Sandy to EPIC was the first member of their new Cockatoo Café family, and she couldn’t be happier.

“Jae and Sandy are the best bosses. Jae’s family works here as well and they’re all so lovely and welcoming. You feel part of their great family!”

Gwenda has a muscle disorder and a bit of fatigue. She needs to keep her brain active, so the opportunity to be able to learn in new yet safe and friendly environments was fantastic for her.

She said that EPIC had and will continue to offer all the support she needs in her employment journey.

“They put 110% effort into doing their job. And they’re friendly, I feel safe with EPIC.”

Jayden was another EPIC participant that Jae and Sandy took an immediate liking to. He had come to EPIC because he wanted a job that helped him feel fulfilled in contributing to society.

Jayden stands behind the front counter at Cockatoo Coffee
Jayden works behind the counter at Cockatoo Coffee, greeting guests with his signature smile and charm.

He’d always been a big fan of coffee, completing a barista course through his school café back in 2016.

Jayden was quick to explain to us how much support he’d gotten from EPIC so that he can work efficiently with his visual impairment.

“We had a workplace assessment guy come in recently. He walked around and kept an eye on me, seeing the things I struggled with and how he could help. There’s a light now above the sink so I can see better doing the dishes, and we have a big touch screen coming in that can be mounted on the wall.

“EPIC have helped me get where I need to be.”

Both Jayden and Gwenda have nothing but praise and respect for Jae and Sandy. It means a lot to both of them that they’ve been welcomed into the Cockatoo Café family with open arms.

“The team here are brilliant. Good people, good for a bit of workplace banter,” Jayden warmly explained.

Cockatoo Coffee Café is now busier than ever, fostering the skills of Jayden and Gwenda and with their help, taking their business to new heights. And they have all the gratitude in the world for their new family and our team at EPIC for providing them.

Jae and Sandy left us with their final thoughts on their EPIC experience.

“EPIC is always making sure to check in. Probably the only employment agency we’ve dealt with that goes above and beyond what’s expected in following up. There’s always that support there if you need help.

“Other businesses should definitely give it a go. No matter what, it’s worth a try. If you have the ability to give people a chance, then you should give them that chance!”

If you’re thinking of hiring a person with disability, start the conversation with us today by phoning 13 EPIC (3742) or sending us a message.

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