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  • Writer's pictureTheresa McKenna

Fill Your Cup: An Interview with Café Joyeux’s Design Team

Updated: Mar 26

My coworker and I were fortunate enough to visit Café Joyeux during its soft opening in mid-December. The café is nestled among the skyscrapers of New York City in Midtown East, but stepping into the space removes you from the hustle and bustle outside. The atmosphere is instantly quieter and more relaxing. We were greeted by a team member at the door, immediately reinforcing the company’s mission to open hearts. The enticing aroma of coffee and pastries wafting through the restaurant, along with the yellow tones and accents, created a warm and welcoming environment.

People sitting in a cafe

Café Joyeux is an international café-restaurant dedicated to the employment and training of people with mental and cognitive disabilities. The company has 18 locations in Europe and just opened its first U.S. location in Manhattan, NY. As a non-profit 501(c)(3), the company strives to hire staff with special needs to teach them life skills and have them interact with guests. The goal is to get rid of the stigma surrounding people with disabilities.

Rabab Zia, Project Designer at elite|studio e, was one of our team members who worked extensively on this project. She helped design the floorplans and café layout. After speaking with her, we’re fortunate to see an entirely different side of this endeavor.

How did you find out about this project?

My team was working on a separate project back in 2022 and the COO of that company is on the board of Café Joyeux. He asked us if we would be interested in helping Café Joyeux, pro-bono.

What made you decide to participate?

I really believe in what the company is doing and I think it is important to help end the stigma surrounding people with disabilities. It also struck a chord with me because I have personal experiences that relate to this.

It’s nice to know that I’m spreading their mission.

What were some unique aspects you faced designing this project?

One of the unexpected things we encountered is that the standard equipment used in their cafes in Europe isn’t compliant here. We had to replace everything with equivalent American equipment.

Also, the original scope of the project was bigger than the final scope. Certain equipment was more expensive than the budget allowed, so we had to cut a few things. We went back and forth a few times attempting to find budgetary items that were still high quality. We also contacted a few companies to ask for donations. In the end, the espresso machine, the coffee brewers, the coffee grinder and the water filter, among a few other things, were all donated. It’s great when people come together for a good cause.

How did you feel when you saw the completed space for the first time in person?

It was amazing to see the completed café for the first time. There is a huge difference seeing a project on the computer and seeing it in person. Seeing the client’s vision come to life was incredible. From the team members to the yellow finishes, there’s a level of sunshine and a joyful vibe aligning with the company mission.

What was the best part about the project?

Girl wearing a hat in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
Project Designer Rabab Zia wearing her Cafe Joyeux hat in Washington, D.C.

The best part about the project was being able to see it through from start to finish. We started working on it in July 2022 and have been consistently involved since then. I was excited to participate in this project and I’m glad I got to work on it during every stage.

I also met the founder of Café Joyeux and that was very cool.

I am proud to have worked on this project. I have a Café Joyeux hat that the company gave us as a gift and I wear it all the time. People have stopped and asked me what the hat is for and I get to explain what the company does. It’s nice to know that I’m spreading their mission.

 Thank you to Pentair/Everpure (water filters), Premier Metal & Glass (food protector) and Equipex (induction warmer) for your donations!


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