Regina catering company dishes out opportunities for those with cognitive disabilities

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

A Regina catering company that employs people with cognitive disabilities is cooking up a café and mobile food cart as it expands its non-profit social enterprise.

Munch Catering's mission is to train its employees to work in the restaurant industry and the food industry with catering jobs that are above minimum wage.

Emily Tarr and Gwen Herman founded Munch Catering in 2016 after they saw a need for training where people with disabilities are paid for their work.

"There used to be this thing where people didn't think they had to pay proper wages to people if they had a disability, and so they wanted to pay an actual proper wage. And so we do. We have ever since," said Rick Morrell, executive director of Munch Catering.

Statistics Canada reported that in 2017, 59 per cent of working-age Canadians who identified as having a disability were employed. Munch Catering is trying to change that.

"The benefit for the employer is that they end up with someone who's completely competent doing their job, completely reliable, and isn't going to leave because, you know, once someone who has been denied access to the labour market finds their place, they're going to stay," Morrell said.

WATCH| Catering company that hires people with cognitive disabilities looking to expand its non-profit:

New space, new opportunities

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 rent terms, the kitchen was a shared space in a basement, which made it more difficult to load up vehicles for events.

Having a space of their own and a seating area offers an opportunity to expand.

Morrell is looking to hire new employees as he plans to open a café for SaskAbilities clients and staff, and have a food cart for summer events.

The registered charity already caters conferences and events and has drive-thru 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 contracted workers with cognitive disabilities sign up for a six-week training course and make food that is donated to community organizations such as the Rainbow Youth Centre and North Central Family Centre.

Confidence grows with skills 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 and stuff. So yeah, it's actually kind of cool," said Gelsinger.

Building on a love of baking with her grandma, Gelsinger started working at Munch Catering in October. Her favourite foods to make are cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods.

Samanda Brace/CBC News
Samanda Brace/CBC News

Morrell, who started 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 already in that time I've seen amazing growth in several of our people," Morrell said.

"It just touches me. I'm new, right? So it just really moves me to think about the growth that I've seen already and the stories that I've heard."

Success after Munch

Gelsinger said she isn't sure what she'd like her next job to be, but she knows Munch Catering's job developer Jessica Burns will help her.

Burns helps employees discover what they enjoy most. She finds them jobs mostly in the food industry, but not if they'd rather work outside a kitchen.

Submitted by Jessica Burns
Submitted by Jessica Burns

Burns said 25 people have gone on to other jobs after Munch, including one who went to Everyday Kitchen and two who went to Koko Patisserie.

Building confidence

Taking a break from prepping taco salads and washing dishes, catering manager Bonnie Maystruck reflected back on her six years at Munch Catering, which began when she started as a volunteer..

She said the biggest challenge was adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic when events were cancelled, but with the support of the community, the business persevered.

Maystruck said that community support and helping the assistant caterers learn new skills makes the job "near and dear" to her heart.

"Confidence in their ability to find a job and to be successful, that's what it's all about," she said.