Stepping up to the counter of Oasis Café in Redcliffe, you’ll find more than just cake and coffee on the menu.
The café, which serves drinks, cakes, breakfast, lunch, and (courtesy of the owners, Steve and Zokki) “wonderful conversations,” is passionate about creating a safe place where people from all over the community can come, enjoy a drink or a meal, and find an open ear or shoulder to lean on.
“Every single person has a story,” said Steve.
“We have many customers with some form of disability or mental health condition, and they come through, and sit down, and I just start talking to them about their life and their disability or mental health. And they open up about their past.
“Sometimes all you need to do is give them 10, 20, 30 minutes, spend some time with them, and just take that weight off their shoulders.
“Often they say to me that no one’s ever asked them these questions, and they leave just really happy to have someone to talk about it with.”
It’s not just the customers that gravitate to Oasis Café, looking for welcoming family to join, it’s the staff too.
“I went through a lot of challenges when I was younger. So when EPIC Assist stopped by and asked me, ‘How would you feel about hiring someone with a disability?’ and we went through some of the disabilities they have, I suppose I could relate to some of them,” said Steve.
EPIC Assist (EPIC) is a Disability Employment Service provider that helps people with a disability, injury, mental health condition, or health condition find work in a safe, inclusive environment.
“I’ve always wanted to help someone out, and hearing about and seeing these lovely people who had been through some of the same things I had, it just all fit together. It was my chance to give something back,” said Steve.
Since connecting with EPIC, Oasis Café has hired six people with a disability or mental health condition, giving them a chance to join a supportive and inclusive team.
“When they come here, they’re all shy and scared, because their previous employers forced them into hiding, and they just need a chance,” said Steve.
It’s their first hire, Joe, that really sticks out as the beginning of something new and wonderful that would transform their little café into something amazing.
“Joe was lovely. He has autism, and he was very quiet, but also very methodical, and that’s what I loved about him,” said Steve.
“He did a great job washing up – the dishes were immaculate. But the problem was he was obsessed with the quality of the finished product: he’d wash them, and then check and inspect every single one, and it was just holding up the process.”
EPIC sent a support worker down to the café to work with Joe and help Steve get a system in place for him. After two weeks of on-the-job support, Joe was a new person.
“He just flew through the work! I never had another issue; the dishes were immaculate and done in a flash. All it took was a little extra patience and support. Once Joe found his own sort of system, it was all a-go,” said Steve.
“We had never worked with someone with autism before, so it was good knowing that we had that support there if we needed it.”
After hiring Joe, it was full steam ahead for Oasis Café.
“Whenever EPIC has someone that’s keen to make a comeback, they drop round and ask if we are interested,” said Steve.
“And it’s always perfect timing. They always find these perfect people at the perfect time.”
One of their current staff members, Telea, has experienced first-hand the change a supportive environment can bring about.
“I’ve been working here for almost two years, and I’ve improved so much since starting,” said Telea.
“When I first started, I was really shy; I didn’t want to talk to anyone and wasn’t really comfortable, but now I’m all chatty chatty. I’ve gained a lot of confidence.”
For Zokki, it’s this chance to connect with a person, listen, and help them grow that keeps her working.
“Telea was nervous when she first arrived, but so is everyone and that’s okay,” said Zokki.
“It’s all about respect. No one should feel lower than someone else. I think that’s very important. We do all the good jobs and the bad jobs together. Once our team feels that, they just open up.
“We try to do our little part. We love each other and everyone feels that. That’s why people are attracted to this place. Not everyone has the same chances in life, but when they come here, we’re all the same. You see the change.”
Anyone who has worked in the hospitality industry knows that for every wonderful customer and kind conversation, there’s another three hours of unrelenting queues and bustling pressure.
“This industry is tough. It can be very stressful for a lot of people, and it’s become part of the culture. That’s why it’s important for them to know that we’ve got their back. Mistakes happen and that’s how we learn and become better,” said Steve.
To help their staff through the tough times, Steve and Zokki have crowned the dish bay area as the “therapy room.”
“I hate doing the dishes at home, but I love doing it here – it’s therapeutic,” said Steve.
“If someone needs a moment, they know they can just head back to the dish bay area. In there, there’s no one to put pressure on them. Just them and the dishes.”
Many of the staff that Steve and Zokki have taken under their wing have faced tough home lives, abusive past employers, or challenges with their mental health. That’s why it’s important to them that Oasis Café is a safe place for their staff to be themselves, learn new skills, and chat with a friendly face.
“My motto is: if you come to work sad, I want you to leave happy. So we’ve made this safe space for our staff. There’s never any reason to scream at or abuse someone. All it takes is understanding and patience, and you can unlock the potential in them,” said Steve.
“We’re all one big happy family, both staff and customers alike. And you always learn something from them. To know that you helped turn someone’s life around – there’s no better feeling. That’s why Zokki and I love it here – you can change a lot of lives.”
Steve and Zokki believe that other organisations need to give more people with disability an opportunity to work.
“These kids just need a chance to start somewhere. A little understanding and they can do just as good of a job, if not better, than a lot of other people who have no disabilities. They put in a better effort and have a better attendance,” said Steve.
“EPIC has helped us every step of the way. They always find us exactly the person we need and make it work.”
If your business is looking to open up diverse and inclusive employment opportunities for people with disability, EPIC will be hosting information sessions in the Moreton Bay region in May and June.
To express your interest and reserve your place, email firstname.lastname@example.org.