An entrepreneur in Salisbury says he hopes his new coffee shop will be a place where people with disabilities can gain work experience and independence.
Aaron Neilson opened Aaron's Coffee House on Main Street on Sept. 2.
It offers the usual fare of lattes, cappuccino, drip coffee and baked goods.
But Neilson wants it to also serve a social purpose —providing a place where individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities can get training and experience in the coffee shop industry.
"It will give them the opportunity to go work at another coffee shop if they want to. But it would give them the initial information needed to go out there and get some independence and a source of income."
Social interaction beneficial
Neilson said he's spoken with a behaviour specialist, a speech therapist and another person involved in a coffee shop, who have guided him in the right direction in terms of the best approach for hiring. He's hoping to be able to start offering job opportunities within six months.
The Moncton native started a coffee shop before, when he lived in Ecuador with his wife Shauntay and their son Makhi.
Interacting with customers seemed to be very beneficial to Makhi, who has autism, Neilson said.
He hopes the boy will be just as involved at the new Salisbury shop.
"It's going slow. He's only 13 so we're not pushing him."
The Neilsons had moved to Ecuador after attending an autism conference there, in the hopes of learning all they could about Makhi's condition.
He'd been diagnosed when he was two years old. And Ecuador is a leader in autism research, Neilson said.
"My son is my motivation for everything. The struggles he goes through every day help us to know that if he can overcome the struggles that he has to overcome, then so can we."
After a hurricane destroyed the autism research centre, they moved back to Canada in 2018.
Salisbury warmed buy coffee shop's deeds
Neilson said he has family members who have been living in Salisbury for several years and he was surprised to discover the village has a "fairly large" community of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Many people have moved there from Moncton seeking a slower, quieter life, he said.
Neilson said he was inspired to open a caring place where his son and others with disabilities could find a home and contribute to the community.
"We needed to make sure that my son had a future. If something happens to me or my wife he's going to be taken care of."
The idea of opening up opportunities for others in the community sprang from there, he said.
And the community has responded in kind.
"The support we've gotten from the Salisbury community is unbelievable. We've gotten gifts from other businesses welcoming us. We've gotten donations from people."
"Words can't explain it," he said.
The pandemic has presented some business start-up challenges, said Neilson, although not as many as he expected.
They opted to have no indoor seating and, like other businesses, had to adopt public health directives for frequent cleaning and hand sanitizing.
Importing coffee beans has been another challenge. Neilson said for now he's buying beans from Down East Coffee Roasters, based in Moncton and Notre-Dame.
But once he gets up to speed, he plans to get his own.