Stories 10:30 14 Sep 2020

Visiting sunny people: how inclusive cafes and restaurants work in Ukraine

People with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders also need work, and they are entitled to it. We’ll tell you about three places in Lutsk, Uzhgorod, and Kharkiv, which allowed them to fulfill their potential.

Today in Europe from 2% to 15% of adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and with Down syndrome are employed in the open labor market. Special employers work as waiters in cafes, repair shoes, deliver post and sort books in libraries, and work in shops and in landscaping. 

At the same time, most Ukrainians with mental disorders spend years at home, having disability pension as their only source of income. If a special needs child has at least some interaction with society at pre-schools and schools. After graduating, there is nothing for them. Grown-up kids are left alone with their parents. 

The solution to this void could be to create social enterprises aimed at solving problems of people with mental disabilities and their adjusting to society. 

The first enterprise like that has been opened in Ukraine just recently. Inclusive bakery Good Bread from Good People has opened in Kyiv three years ago and is already well known to many citizens. A successful project of Kyiv pioneers inspired Ukrainians to create similar places in other cities of Ukraine as Uzhgorod, Vinnytsia, Kharkiv, Lutsk, Chernivtsi. 

Coffee shop-confectionery "Stare Misto", Lutsk

Кав'ярня-кондитерія «Старе Місто», Луцьк

At the beginning of 2020, Larysa Novosad and Olena Melnyk opened a coffee-shop "Stare Misto" in downtown Lutsk. It is incredible not only because you can try delicious desserts there, drink some fragrant coffee, feel the history of an ancient city, but also because sunny boys work there. They are 20-year-old Andrii Melnyk and 18-year-old Valentyn Novosad, sons of co-owners of the inclusive cafe. 

"When my son turned 16," Larysa Novosad says,  "I started thinking about his future. At that time, we, the parents of Lutsk sunny kids, organized a daycare center for them with various classes. Choreographers, directors, artists were attending classes. I admired how our kids were learning, how they were communicating. We were teaching them the basics as how to make tea, how to set the table, how to treat your friend to something. They were so excited, so with the support of our community, the organization grew bigger. We bought a multi-cooker, a bread maker. We saw that our kids could easily not only serve the table but even bake a sponge-cake and measure every gram of products".

Also, the community-based organization "Parents of kids with Down syndrome" managed to implement the project "One day at work" with the support of local entrepreneurs. As a part of this project, Valentyn Novosad had an internship in the coffee-shop confectionery. 

"He liked it there so much," remembers Larysa, "that he worked there for two months, although we'd agreed only on a one-week internship. Maybe it was then when we had an idea of opening our own cafe because not every employer will hire a person with a disability for a full-time job. So, we decided to become such employers."


First, two ex-teachers had to learn all the coffee wisdom by themselves. Now the ladies proudly say that the boys do 90% of work. Pastry master Oksana helps the cafe by making sweets and pastries. Andrii and Valentyn work 4 hours a day and divide a working day into two shifts. Boys not only work but also study. Andrii Melnyk is a photographer, Valentyn Novosad is a student of college of food technology. 

"They really enjoy the fact that their job is needed," says Larysa, "they perfectly feel the mood of our visitors, can be very tactful and non-intrusive. Every visitor receives a special "sunny" smile."

Кав'ярня-кондитерія «Старе Місто», Луцьк

"Our biggest challenges are rent, bills, and salaries. We don't know whether we can do that after quarantine,"  says a co-owner of the coffee shop Olena Melnyk, "we don't have any backups, or as it's now popular to say, a financial cushion to secure us. All small businesses are anxiously waiting now, and our small enterprise is also a social one because we employ people with disabilities. We try to find solutions to this situation."

іклюзивне кафе

In July thanks to volunteers the cafe launched their own holiday "The Day of Coffee and Art", which will now take place annually. Moreover, they hold different social events, seminars for students of Lutsk National Technical University, workshops, and art meetings for disabled people in the cafe's building. From September they will start an educational platform for further employment of other kids with Down syndrome. Larysa and Olena who received "People of the year-2020. Volyn" award plan to expand their team as soon as they get over the quarantine. This is the only place in Lutsk where people with mental disabilities can work.

Кав'ярня-кондитерія «Старе Місто», Луцьк

"Let's hope that everything will be okay. That quarantine problems are temporary and that in some time we will function fully. We really want people to visit such places not because they feel sorry for us, but because the coffee is great. We don't want to be afraid that society will hurt the most vulnerable. Parents of such kids often feel helpless because they don't want to feel pain every time their kid is looked or reacted weirdly at," says Larysa."We were afraid of that as well, but Lutsk residents perceived us very adequately. Now we have many friends in Lutsk who always help us, tourists from other cities come to try our desserts, specifically search for us on the map. This is the biggest reward for us."

📍 The address of the coffee-shop confectionery "Stare Misto": Lutsk, 11 Drahomanova Street.

Inclusive confectionery school-shop "Zoloti Sertsia Zakarpattia", Uzhhorod

Інклюзивна кондитерська школа-крамниця

Olena Lohvynenko is a forced migrant from Luhansk who came to Zakarpattia 4 years ago. She is a mother to 18-year-old Dania, a boy with autism spectrum disability, who initiated and launched the amazing confectionery in Uzhhorod. 

"Daniil and I had to start a new life in Zakarpattia," Olena shares, "I found a social center which works with kids with a similar diagnosis. There I met parents with kids like mine. I noticed that kids really enjoy making sweets. They were making candy, frosted cookies. I offered other parents the idea of confectionery and they immediately supported me. That's how we got a team of like-minded people, most of whom are still together."

Інклюзивна кондитерська школа-крамниця

Olena Lohvynenko designed and led the project "Zoloti Sertsia of Zakarpattia", to create job opportunities for people with mental disabilities. The woman gathered 10 families, who bring up special kids, volunteers, sponsors, and non-indifferent people of Uzhgorod around the idea.

"We opened "on a small budget" just before the new year, decided, now or never," tells the initiator of the project, "thanks to parents' investments and charity contributions we rented a place and bought only the most necessary equipment.  Later with the money from the city budget (we won a small grant of 22 800 hryvnias), we bought some furniture for the cafe, where we created an inclusive co-working, where people with disabilities serve clients and do art-therapy. Also, we sell our fresh-made products there".

Інклюзивна кондитерська школа-крамниця

Inclusive confectionery school helps young people with Down syndrome and autism fulfill their potential by the means of education and labor therapy, which means they become necessary for society thanks to their professional success. "We want special kids, and in our team there are people from 19 to 47 years old, to learn culinary, work and receive salary for their work," says Olena. "We have a teacher and pastry chef-chocolatier Pavlo Bodak, who teaches confectionery in our school."

Every day under the supervision of a professional chef, our boys and girls with Down syndrome and ASD happily cook cakes, cheesecakes, biscuits, cookies, chocolate candies from coconut, ginger, with dried prunes and almonds. 

Інклюзивна кондитерська школа-крамниця

"They are incredibly radiant people," says Olena, "they are not prone to negative emotions and deeds: anger, jealousy, villainy. These people are open, sincere, and naive. Yes, they can be too energetic, but we try to redirect their extra energy to creative processes. We purposely don't try to copy any of the rolled-out products. If only you could see what interesting ornaments appear on our biscuits! Our kids may have lost something, but they have so many unique skills. Let's develop their strong sides. I dream that they will appear on the front pages of the professional publications. 

Інклюзивна кондитерська школа-крамниця

Olena tells us that at first not all Uzhhorod citizens took the idea of inclusive confectionery positively. Mothers of special employees were asked some weird questions like "Do your kids wash hands? What if there is glass in the dessert?"They were gaining the trust of city residents by outstanding service, the quality of the products, and reviews of happy clients.

Кав'ярня-кондитерія інклюзія

Quarantine knocked down the young enterprise a little. "There were moments," says Olena, "when I didn't have any power. Especially when we understood that due to quarantine we didn't even have money to pay rent which costs us 13 thousand hryvnias monthly. Not to say about bills and salary spendings. I even started thinking about closing and moving to a different city. But after I told about our troubles online, we received so much help that maybe for the first time I felt that Uzhhorod needed us and nobody wanted us to close."

📍  Exclusive confectionery is situated in Uzhhorod, on 11/1 Mytraka street.

Restaurant "Snih na holovu", Kharkiv


Of course, the biggest motivation to open a social enterprise is of parents with special kids. But the problems of kids with mental disabilities are important not only to their mothers. 

Young entrepreneurs Tetiana Kameneva and Mykhailo Chernomorets opened a real restaurant where people with Down syndrome and ASD work, with an original name "Snih na holovu". "Why such a name? Because the most beautiful things in life happen unexpectedly, it hits you over the head and turns your life upside down," co-creators of the project explains.


"I always felt responsible for the world around me and understood that I was a little bit luckier than others," says Mykhaylo Chernomorets.  "I am healthy, I live in a beautiful country, I have a wonderful family. My possibilities give me the power to help others."

"Our aim," Tetiana adds, "is to show that those for whom we created our project are normal people with their own feelings and emotions. For several years we have been dreaming about opening a restaurant in Kharkiv, where everyone could be themselves. A blond with freckles, a brunette with braces, a boy who has a boyfriend, a person with a disability. It's normal and not scary at all, and it absolutely doesn't prevent you from having a normal life and from enjoying it." 

Tetiana and Mykhailo are people with the same views who met at the beginning of the project and went to a common aim responsibly and meticulously. At first, they didn't attempt to create high cuisine, and worked on the idea of employing people with mental disabilities, and fighting the pity. They didn't have any experience and decided to follow the books, worked on the business-model, researched foreign practices, searched for investors, since "Snih na holovu" was initially planned to become a full-fledged business and not just a charity project. The place was supposed to become a functioning example of social entrepreneurship. 


"One and a half years ago," Mykhailo Chornomorets says," Tetyana posted online that we were looking for cooks and students for our project and if there were people willing to teach and learn, we would be glad to meet them. At first, it was planned to be a workshop and then it became a full-fledged teaching course that took half a year. The first ten people, who replied and were brought by their families, came to the first class and are still working with us". 

In view of the culinary school co-creators held two festive dinners with high cuisine. Special employees carried out the task so responsibly, that business-partners understood that with such a team they would be able to go beyond the confectionery or bakery and have the heart to open a restaurant. 


"The core principle of our cooperation,"  Mykhailo continues, "all people are different, but this shouldn't be connected to disability. Diagnosis shouldn't affect the relationship with a person. Each of our employees is a valuable participant of the team, we treat them like any other people, sincerely, with a smile, with respect, with humor, we all follow the same rules. There are schedules, strictly written working hours, reprimands for tardiness, and other breaches of discipline. It's not a game, it's work. Tetiana and I also had to work on a fair attitude to inclusive employees, without pity, without calling them, kids. Our chef Oleksandr Bilodid gave us a good example. From the very beginning, he talked to employees as to regular people, even though he confessed later that it wasn't easy. So we all had to redo ourselves, review our approaches, our values. We learned to deal with parents (and parents had to get accustomed to the unusual independence of their children), write correctly about our common work on social media. Such real, fair inclusion is our mission". 


In "Snih na holovu" everything, from the interior to food, is adjusted to the client. Nice music, comfortable tables for different companies, WIFI. Guests are offered an exotic ostrich steak, pasta, original ravioli, salads, and desserts. 

"Our clients are common people, like in any other place," Mykhailo emphasizes, "many of them find out that we employ people with mental disabilities only on the spot. Despite this year's difficulties, our restaurant is growing, showing better results monthly.  There is a lot of work ahead. We created a motivational system for our employees, many of them already receive salaries, they have their own HR-curator, who controls schedules, mood, plans the learning process, does everything to make the work comfortable for everyone. We want to master a new direction, delivery service. We are rearranging and elaborating on our menu, working on prices and ads. Everyone is watching us and our business needs constant attention. We never manipulate the disability topic, we believe that the client should come to us for delicious food, good mood, and beautiful design."


Mykhailo doesn't expect any special help from the government, according to him, the best helpers are the clients of "Snih na holovu". Their help is trust, reviews, good and bad, which can help us improve. 

"I can't say that we lack something. We have faith in our team, two arms, two legs, and head on the shoulders, so we can do anything. Tania and I dream about changing this world at least a little bit, to make it fairer, more open, and accessible to people with disabilities. I believe that any inclusive project is about humanity. Any project like that has inspiring people, people who surprise and excite us involved. I hope that we will be able to inspire someone and that we will move together to the better world". 

📍Restaurant "Snih na holovu" can be found on the map of Kharkiv, 34 Alchevskyh street. 

Rubryka also told how blind knitters create eco-bags in Vinnitsia. 

This publication is available in Ukrainian and Russian. The English translation hasn’t been produced yet. Support us to make the translation faster - follow the link for instructions


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