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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Aug 31, 2018

A Mission That Knows No Limits

By Felecia Stratton

Stephanie Family No Limits Cafe Middletown NJ Cartier

Like many parents of children with intellectual disabilities, Mark and Stephanie Cartier had been asking two questions about the future of their 19-year-old daughter Katie with Down syndrome: Where will she live? And where will she work?

They chose to answer the second question by founding No Limits Cafe, a restaurant that will hire people with intellectual disabilities to serve lunch.

No Limits Cafe Middletown NJ Cartier

“When our children age out of school programs, they want and need to work,” Mark said. “They want the same fulfillment we all do. Remember how you felt when someone put faith in you and hired you? Our kids have the same feelings, but often have difficulty expressing them. We saw the statistics and decided to act.”

The Cartiers plan to open No Limits Cafe in January 2019, at the former Rigoletto’s site at 418 Route 35, in Middletown/Red Bank. They are finalizing their building plans to present to the township, and will begin renovations once approvals are granted. Those renovations are designed to make the restaurant ADA compliant, and include enlarging the kitchen spaces for easy walker and wheelchair access.

When it first opens, the restaurant will serve only lunch. “We have a chef and are already working on our menu,” Stephanie said. “We will offer soup, salad, sandwiches, and paninis. There will be regular specials as well, and we hope to feature locally grown items.”

The second phase of the Cartier’s business plan includes training individuals to work in other local restaurants.

No Limits Cafe Middletown NJ Katie Cartier

“We want to partner with other restaurants as a way to create a multiplier effect,” Mark explained. “What if we could get each restaurant in Red Bank and Middletown to hire one of our trainees? That is truly meaningful. Our motto is, ‘Eat well. Do good.’ Imagine having a great meal at a restaurant, while supporting an under-employed population at the same time.”

Working with adults with intellectual disabilities presents several challenges, but the Cartiers are prepared to meet them. “Some employees will have limitations, and we will job carve as needed,” Mark said. “We are preparing training programs, and we hired a manager who will be a tremendous asset as we begin the hiring and training process.”

Another challenge only serves to reinforce the Cartier’s belief in their plan. “We have already received an unbelievable number of requests for employment,” Stephanie said. “This further reinforces our belief that we have to do this. So many amazing people need jobs.”

Despite the challenges, the rewards make the effort worthwhile and fulfilling.

“We have witnessed firsthand how having a job impacts individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Mark said. “We have seen the highs and the lows. Imagine how you might feel if it took you years to find a job? That means years of rejections, some kind and some not so kind. The rewards will be great when we are able to help those individuals.”

When the Cartiers first started their planning, they reached out to Ruth Thompson, founder of Hugs Café, a non-profit fast-casual cafe that employs adults with special needs in Texas.

“She has been an amazing friend and mentor to us,” Stephanie noted. “Others, including Tim McLoone, have also helped us along and guided us. Every time we had a doubt or a question, we are blessed with the answers from people like Ruth and Tim.”

The Cartiers are passionate about their mission, but admit it won’t be easy to achieve. “We are a 501 (c)(3) non profit. Our mission is great, and we know it will be a massively successful part of the community,” Mark said. “But we do need help. The lift is large, and we need to raise a lot of money. We need support.”

To help the Cartiers or for more information, visit nolimitscafe.org.

“Stephanie often says, ‘Be the change you want to see,’” Mark said. “We want to be the change.”