GRANDVIEW -- If Gary Hyde is playing harmonica, it must be the Little Corner Bakeshop.
For almost a quarter of a century, you've been able to order coffee, a cinnamon bun and a guaranteed smile -- your own -- from this unique café.
And if it happens to be someone's birthday, the above-mentioned Hyde will pop up with his harmonica faster than you can say "cream and sugar."
The secret to its success? A dozen very special, special-needs adults such as Hyde who help out the eight regular staff.
'This place has been a little godsend to the community'
There may not be another café like it in the country. "This place has been a little godsend to the community," said Wayne Manweiller, chairman of Grandview Gateways Inc., the non-profit agency that oversees the bakeshop and other local programs for special-needs adults.
The bakeshop is busy, lively and brimming with giggles all morning long, during hours when most cafés are empty. Then the lunch crowd files in. The place is so popular, people line up in the mornings waiting for it to open. In winter, customers wait in their vehicles.
The people of Grandview, 360 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, are clearly onto something. How do they explain the unique atmosphere inside the bakeshop?
Carolyn Crossley, Gateways executive director, doesn't like to make the comparison to children but says there's a similar unguarded nature about special-needs people. They don't conceal their emotions and expect to be "unconditionally accepted."
It rubs off. There's no way you can walk into the Little Corner Bakeshop and gripe, grumble and wallow in self-pity.
Everyone benefits. "It's nice to see how happy the participants can be. It's a big changeover from some places," said Manweiller.
"They're not cut off from society," said Crossley. "They're integrated. They form relationships they wouldn't normally have." And they learn. "(Participants) are learning how to interact with other people, and what's acceptable and what isn't," she said.
It's hard to say who benefits more, the participants or the community. "People get the warm-and-fuzzies here," she said.
Gateways originally started a program for special-needs adults to make crafts. It decided to hold a bake sale to raise some funds to buy supplies. The bake sale went so well, they held another, and another. It eventually dawned on officials people were more interested in buying bakery than crafts.
The bakeshop started in 1989 but moved into a furniture store on Main Street in 1993 where it gets the foot traffic. Neither is it "little" as its name claims. It has 16 tables, and they fill up. That's in a town of just 800 people. Neither is it just a bakeshop. It also serves lunches. Over the years, officials who run special-needs programs elsewhere have visited to see how they do it.
In the kitchen, you find what makes the bakeshop tick. Pearl Galbraith is spotted peeling carrots at the end of a long table. She could retire, someone explains to her, but she just loves peeling carrots too much, followed by dicing, etc. Johnna Yanke has a smile that could crack an egg; make that a carton of eggs. "I bake. I love baking," she says, especially those famous cinnamon buns.
They assist the eight regular staff. They'll clean tables, load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, make the coffee, fill the sugar bowls and creamers, peel vegetables and help with making salads and baked goods.
They also decorate. The Little Corner Bakeshop is now festooned with Christmas decorations. Once those come down, up go decorations for Valentine's Day, then St. Patrick's Day, then Easter, then spring, etc. It's always festive.
The bakeshop is successful even with limited hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and only weekdays. While it doesn't break even, it does cover expenses (but not building costs) and several salaries. Participants get a training allowance of $3.50 per day, which is standard in Manitoba, said Crossley.
However, the bean-counters at Child and Family Services think the bottom line should be better. Crossley defends the program.
"Our staff ratio is higher because our staff are doing more than just looking after people," she said.
The bakery puts together dainty plates that are very popular at this time of year. They also do special orders. One woman in California orders cinnamon buns once a month. Its sandwiches are all made with homemade bread. It also has a students' menu with things such as chili on a bun and tacos in a bag.
While it's a training program, most participants don't find work elsewhere. It might be different in a city but there are fewer opportunities in a small town like Grandview. Gateways is one of the town's biggest employees, with 45 full- and part-time staff, for 27 program participants.