In Port Moody, just 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, a large pink sign on the ‘building of baked goodies’, tucked away at 2302B Clarke Street, heralds your arrival at Gabi & Jules Handmade Pies. On the street, you may see a parked van, colourfully wrapped in images of some of the delicious treats that await behind the building’s welcoming pink door. Patrons consuming finger-licking baked goodness at the elegantly-modest seating area bordering the street, will further indicate that you have arrived at that special place in Metro Vancouver.
On entry, a cordial greeting will be extended and, as you survey the offerings, seemingly baffled by the many delicious choices, a staff member will pleasantly ask if help is needed.
This is Gabi & Jules, an employer who considers people with disabilities to be not only employable, but valuable members of their team!
A Conversation with Lisa Beecroft, co-owner of Gabi & Jules
Mélange: What inspired the decision to hire people with disabilities?
Gabi & Jules: We decided while we were building the bakery that we wanted to create an environment that was inclusive of individuals of all abilities. This decision was inspired after hearing from a customer about SAP’s Autism at Work program which is a global initiative aiming to have 10% of SAP’s workforce be individuals on the autism spectrum. When I heard about that program I thought, “why can’t we do that?” and given that the bakery was named after our two daughters, and our eldest daughter, Juliana, is on the spectrum, it just made sense. Starting with this intention really helped though we have learned a lot over the past four years and continue to improve our inclusiveness.
Mélange: How do you feel seeing the increase in self-confidence of your staff as a result of being employed?
Gabi & Jules: Providing individuals with opportunity and purpose certainly is something that everyone needs and contributes greatly to self-esteem and confidence. Seeing individuals thrive and grow here at the bakery is amazing and at the core is our intention to create provide meaningful employment, meaning that individuals are contributing to our teams in important and critical ways, so they are truly valued by their peers.
Mélange: Gabi & Jules is considered to be a welcoming place. How do you create that environment?
Gabi & Jules: Creating a welcoming environment has been something that we have seen truly evolve and grow as inclusiveness and ultimately kindness has become more and more a part of our culture. This doesn’t just apply to those with disabilities. We strive to create a place where everyone can feel welcomed, safe and valued for their unique value. Leading with inclusivity has ultimately helped us cultivate an environment that in general is welcoming to everyone and is hopefully just a nice place to come to work each day.
Mélange: Share with us some of the positives your employees with disabilities bring to your business.
Gabi & Jules: There are many positives but I think seeing the gratitude for the opportunity and the joy and positivity individuals bring to work has really helped contribute to a pleasant work environment. In addition, retention and reliability is an added bonus that we’ve seen.
Mélange: How do you decide what roles are most suitable for an employee with a disability?
Gabi & Jules: We approach hiring by identifying roles we need filled and what tasks will be required. We then work with our partner agencies to see if they have any clients they think will be a good fit. I find that working closely with agencies who have taken the time to get to know our business ensure that clients they recommend will likely be a good fit, as they are invested in ensuring placements are a win/win.
Mélange: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, or continue to face, if any?
Gabi & Jules: We’ve faced many challenges and continue to always learn how to be more effective in our inclusive practices. To name a few, I would say especially in the past two years we’ve been working hard to ensure we are striving towards true inclusion rather than tokenism. I think initially there was a bit of an approach by managers to just put up with individuals with disabilities rather than really invest in getting to know them, challenge them (and themselves) to excel and to ensure the individuals were truly a part of the team. We made changes to improve on this and have seen how individuals really can grow when they feel they are a valued member of the team. In addition, I definitely learned to identify agencies whose values align with ours, they are committed to supporting their clients as well as us in order to make placements successful. There isn’t a cookie cutter approach to training and ongoing job support, so finding agencies and job coaches who are committed to long term success is really critical to our inclusivity. As a small business, we do not have an HR / Training department so we rely heavily on the support of job coaches / employment specialists.
Mélange: How has your diverse staff helped you to improve the service you offer to customers?
Gabi & Jules: I think the diversity of our team and our inclusivity has enriched our business in such a way that our customers are more loyal and supportive because they appreciate this aspect of our business.
Mélange: What tips can you give to other employers who may be considering hiring someone with a disability but have not yet done so? Canadians with disabilities are not hired as often as those without a disability. What are your thoughts on this?
Gabi & Jules: My first piece of advice is to find a great local agency to work with. Interview them and ensure that they are taking the time to fully understand what your needs are and how your business operates. If they approach job placements by ensuring a mutual fit for their client as well as your business, then likely it will be a good relationship. I also think setting intention is super important. Getting support from existing team members and management and then just don’t be afraid to fail. Breaking down the barriers and fear of failure here is very important as I find many employers are afraid of having missteps in this process and therefore don’t try. I try to be honest as possible with everyone involved so that we continue to break down barriers.
Mélange: Do you hire persons on the autism spectrum only? What % of your staff is a person with a disability?
Gabi & Jules: While initially we were motivated to create employment opportunities to individuals on the spectrum, we really have expanded this to include anyone with a disability given they are the best fit for opportunity. Prior to COVID0-19, 35% of our employees had a disability. Unfortunately we’ve eliminated a few of those positions given the change in our operation (reduced hours, no café seating inside). I am hopeful as our business continues to evolve in this new reality we’ll find new opportunities for individuals with disabilities but they might just be different than the previous positions.
The Gabi & Jules journey began five years ago when they started selling at their local farmers market. Their bakery on Clarke Street, Port Moody was opened one year later. One team member, Nico de las Alas has been with them for over three years, “and to me he is such a perfect example of how inclusive enriches the workplace,” Lisa said. “Not only is he a phenomenal dishwasher, but he brings such positive energy to work!”
One of Nico’s favourite things is ‘80’s J-Pop so everyday he is allowed to change the music that’s played in the bakery during the last 30 minutes of his shift. “We had initially done it as a way to motivate him to finish up his dishes but now he is so proficient he doesn’t need the motivation. It’s more just a ritual of the day,” Lisa shared.
Nico enjoys being a part of the team. He said, “My favourite part of working at Gabi and Jules is the friendly atmosphere that embraces me while fulfilling my tasks for the day. I have co-workers and an employer that are very supportive and understanding. We are like a family here. For me, doing something that I love and being appreciated is a rewarding job. It gives me that self-fulfillment that I am part of a team in giving the best service that our customers deserve.”
Observing COVID-19 protocols, they are open on:
Tuesday – Friday: 10am-4pm | Saturday: 9am-5pm | Sunday: 10am-4pm.
Other than a few items that are only available on Saturdays or weekends, almost everything listed on their website is available everyday except on Mondays when they are closed. If you see something there that you absolutely need, you are advised to pre-order to avoid disappointment!