MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Stephanie and Mark Cartier are the founders of No Limits Cafe, set to serve up lunch soon, possibly in November. However, it is so much more than a lunch cafe. No Limits Cafe (NLC), located at 418 Route 35, in Middletown, in the former location of Rigoletto's restaurant, will employ adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) to work in all aspects of the cafe in the day. In the evenings the cafe will be closed for business, but open for training adults with ID, all the different jobs and responsibilities that the restaurant business has to offer.
No Limits Cafe is not even open yet, but it is buzzing with something money can't buy: palpable joy. It's that natural high that you feel when you have many good people all working towards the same goal of creating more good in the world.
No Limits Cafe is a movement in its own right. They have received an immense outpouring of support from the community. People have been coming forward to offer their goods and services, deep discounts on materials, donated labor, donations and fundraising, sponsorships... they even had free technology donated to them that otherwise would have been one of their most expensive investments. Mark and Stephanie Cartier bought the building and are the founders of No Limits Cafe, a 501c3, that rents the building from the Cartier's at no cost.
The goal of the teaching academy side of NLC is to train adults with ID, so they have opportunities for employment with any of the local restaurants and other businesses that fit the training. Stephanie Cartier comments, "Mark and I have three children. We have two sons and our youngest, now 21 is our daughter Katie. Katie was born with Down Syndrome and Mark and I know that there's what is called the 'dropping off the cliff' point where young adults with intellectual disabilities age out of the programs and there is very little left for them. Mark and I knew we had to do something." WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW AND MEET THE CARTIER'S.
Listen to Stephanie and Mark Cartier speak about their mission with No Limits Cafe, what inspired them and the outpouring of support they have received:
From the moment you walk in the door at No Limits Cafe, it feels like you've stepped into somewhere special and the stressful world you just left is rear-view mirror. You enter into a mix of happy and you may find that you don't want to leave too soon. Everyone makes each person feel comfortable.
The Cartier's said that a few years back when their daughter Katie was approaching her late teens they were concerned about her soon aging out of the programs she was involved with. They saw Lester Holt do a story on NBC Nightly News about a restaurant in McKinney, Texas, called Hugs Cafe. It was a restaurant employing young adults with ID. The Cartier’s took a trip to Hugs Cafe to check out the restaurant and talk to the owner firsthand. The visit to Hugs Cafe inspired them further, and they decided to expand on the concept and bring it home to the Middletown area.
No Limits Cafe will have the space to seat 86 people, however they plan to seat around 50-60. The room includes a 13-foot custom-made community table for easy socializing. NLC will have fun games and activities available, etc. It will also host special events and fundraisers. Specific thought went into every detail of the kitchen, prep and dining areas to make training and working comfortable and accessible. There is plenty of room for wheelchair maneuvering. The kitchen is an open kitchen looking out into the dining room. The day TAPinto visited earlier in the month, the floors were being finished and the dining room was starting to come together.
Stephanie comments, "The success of where we are right now, almost ready to open, has really taken a village. We could not have asked for better people to be involved. It's such a great group of people and I feel so blessed, I think God brings you who you need, when you need them. Most of our team has full time jobs outside of here, and they are donating their time and it's just a very special group here."
It is a true community force, a movement. For example, their current management team consists of friends, family acquaintances, and also some were total strangers who stepped up and asked, "How can I help? How can we be a part of this?" All came together, rolled up their sleeves and were enthusiastic to start helping.
The management team consists of many passionate volunteers: Pat Nelson who is a full time HR manager, a founding board member of NLC, and donating her time now as director of technology for NLC. She's donating her expertise and services with a strong background in technology. Christine Slattery, founding NLC board member has taken on the role of lead decorator. Every decorating detail has been given great care. Slattery comments, "It's a real community effort, we have donated rustic wood from a barn that was torn down in Holmdel. It's adds such a cool touch to the framing around the side door where we hung a horseshoe for good luck. We found designer lighting that we had to have, but it was so expensive and somehow they gave us everything at their cost..so many people in the community have just stepped out to give their time and materials. The whole place is full of different parts of the community." Meet Christine and listen to what she has to say in the next video. You can also see the great space coming along:
VIDEO: No Limits Cafe Founding Board Member Christine Slattery, also lead decorator for NLC:
Alexandra Sciortino has taken on the responsibility of the general restaurant manager. Before taking the position of Restaurant Manager at No Limits Cafe, Alexandra has worked numerous jobs in the Restaurant and Hotel Industry while also acquiring experience with people with intellectual disabilities in the form of a companion. Alexandra is currently studying International Hospitality and Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and looks forward to graduating in the Spring of 2019. Jackie Plant is NLC's Kitchen Manager. She has a background in restaurant management and also is the former director of food and nutrition for magazines such as Woman's Day, and Parent's Magazine, as well as a former freelance consultant for Weight Watchers.
Plant comments, "I'm so excited about NLC. I was a general manager for a restaurant at one time and would manage and expedite in the kitchen. I am all about healthy foods and along with my NLC Assistant Kitchen Manager Kali Garita, we want to take the sugar and starch out of everyone's diet and replace it with healthy, delicious and satisfying."
Plant and Garita have put together a delicious and healthy menu that has food taste testers raving. "We have carefully put together a limited menu for launch time that will be easily managed and at the same time will feature our most popular and tested items."
The menu offers many interesting choices like a Grilled Flat Iron Steak Wrap with caramelized onions, greens and aged blue cheese on a ciabatta roll or a baguette, a Tuna Sandwich, (pole and line caught tuna, red onion, celery, mayo, lemon thinly sliced cucumber, arugula, on sourdough)... There is also a healthy children's menu with choices like a 'no nitrates, Uncured Grilled Turkey Hot Dog', or Chicken Tenders, oven baked with sliced cucumbers and tomato flowers on the side... NLC will be planting a garden to source herbs for their recipes...growing vegetables and harvesting them for the cafe.
Ilene Winters is the Director of Development for NLC, Mark Cartier is the Creative Director, Kirsten Rennard is the Community Liasion, Laura Coulter is the Volunteer Coordinator, Heidi Clark is the Special Education Teacher assisting with training. The following men have dedicated countless hours and deeply discounted services; Rick Karinja from Peninsula Builders and Contracting, Kenny Burke, Broadway Technology, Electrician Services and Tim Cartier, Electrician. Potential team members are reaching out regularly to the volunteer coordinator as the movement is growing and...The inspiration for the entire operation is Katie Cartier. "Having a child with Down Syndrome is such a blessing sometimes I say to my husband, 'I feel sorry for people that are missing out by not having a child with Down Syndrome. Katie is such a blessing to our family.." Stephanie Cartier.
Listen to this inspiring message from Katie's mom Stephanie as she talks about her daughter Katie and provides real insight about having a child with an intellectual disability. Watch her 40 second inspirational video below.
VIDEO: Stephanie Cartier's inspiring message to parents expecting or beginning to raise a child with Down Syndrome/intellectual disabilities:
The restaurant is planned to be open from 11-3 daily and will start with a soft opening, serving a limited crowd, with a limited menu so the employees feel successful from the beginning.
Mark and Stephanie's daughter Katie who is the inspiration for No Limits Cafe when they began the process in 2017, is currently attending a special program at George Mason University in Virginia, the program is called Mason Life. It is a four year, non-degree non-matriculated program. "Katie absolutely loves it and so do we. She goes to classes, she has internships, she's so involved and happy. The goal of the entire four years at Mason Life is to socialize and transition to being self-sufficient; cooking, cleaning, laundry,...and ultimately to leave college as independent as possible. We are so grateful for this opportunity there for her. In just one year, the change has been drastic for Katie. She is doing amazingly well!" Mark and Stephanie also have 2 sons; Mark 25 and Ryan 22.
"We would not be successful without our community support that we have received. We have a great group of volunteers, we are blessed with an amazing team, and we thank the businesses and organizations that have already started fundraising for us. Stephanie Cartier gave a shout out of thanks to the following community fundraisers: Hinlickity's Ice Cream Parlor, Molzon's Landscaping, Port Monmouth 5th grade car wash, Samantha Conrad, Scentsy Agent, Holmdel Community Church's Turkey Dinner, Middletown Lion's Club's Superbowl Pancake Breakfast, Middletown H.S. South Teachers' Wear Jeans Day, NYSE Members Handicapped Children's Fund, Facebook Birthday Fundraisers, NJ Marathon Runners and Stephanie Falvo for Yoga with a Cause at Bell Works... this list is growing all the time-join the movement at No Limits Cafe!
No Limits Cafe is sure to be a popular lunch place soon for business folks, families, etc., a real community hub! TAPinto will be reporting on their grand opening, so stay tuned. In the meantime if you would like to make a donation, host a fundraiser, donate your services as a volunteer,...if you are an interested young adult with intellectual disabilities or have a family member who would benefit from the NLC programs, visit their website at nolimitscafe.org or call 732-451-3484 No Limits Cafe-EAT WELL-DO GOOD.