Chill n Chat cafe celebrates 20th birthday

David Hough from Meals On Wheels with John Costello, Director at Vivocare and the Chill n Chat 20th birthday cake.

THE one-of-a-kind Chill n Chat café in Coffs Harbour’s Community Village celebrated its 20th birthday in style on Monday morning, 20 March.

A huge cake was shared amongst the community, customers, participants and volunteers who turned up to the garden deck of the café to raise a cuppa to the café’s success.

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John Costello, Director at Vivocare, which partners with Meals On Wheels (MOW) to operate the not-for-profit café, has played a driving role in the beginnings and 20-year evolution of Chill n Chat.

“It’s not just about training and skills development or work experience,” John told News Of The Area

“It’s a nurturing community café, it’s about being part of a team, a way of giving back to the community through the provision of good food, it’s an inclusive environment providing meaningful engagement.”

For Chill n Chat, success is measured not in financial terms, but rather the outcomes and opportunities it delivers for the people working in the café and its customers.

“It also provides a social setting for our Meals On Wheel recipients; rather than just having their meal delivered to them at home and eating it alone, they can connect with others and eat together.”

Meal prices are all subsidised.

The metrics are not financial; they are about inclusion and community building and opportunity.

The training happens in the background.

“Safe food handling and barista training is naturally occurring when needed, ours is not a training program,” said John.

However, in 2003, Chill n Chat started as a safe food handling course for people with disabilities run by TAFE Outreach.

In John’s speech he shared how the café began 20 years ago with a question: “what if?”.

“What if we ran a safe food handling course and coffee making course for people with disability?”

“I went back to my work and asked people there and we had ten people signed up within a day,” he said.

In attendance at the birthday party were two of those original students, Lucy and Harold.

“That was the beginning of the café; MOW made the kitchen available to us and Council made the meeting room – as it was at the time – available to us.

That course ran for eight to ten weeks and during that time people kept coming by asking if they were serving coffee.
It was another “what if?”

“What if we open for coffee and lunch one day a week?”John said.

“We started that, and it was surprisingly busy, there was a huge demand for it.

“Homemade quiches, rocket out of my garden, people just threw in to make that one day a week work.”

With that level of demand people kept asking for more days.

“We then realised we needed a chef.”

They managed to secure Glen Hawkins who was working as a support worker at the time.

He had been head chef at Summit restaurant in Sydney’s Australia Square.

“From there it really started to rocket.

“We went to three days, for two or three years.”

With a grant and partnership with Meals On Wheels, Chill n Chat went very quickly to four then five days a week.

The Chill n Chat café model has not been replicated anywhere, said John.

“It’s no one person’s vision; it happened organically.

“Because it evolved in a unique way out of the community it exists in, it’s not a model you can pick up and replicate easily.

“Certainly, the partnership with Meals On Wheels has been important to sustain it long-term because it is not just about people with disabilities or aged care, it’s about the community,” he said.

Margaret Hoschke, Chair of the Meals On Wheels partnership, described Chill n Chat as the “best kept little secret in Coffs Harbour”.

“You’ve got to have the right mix to make it work and here it works beautifully,” Margaret said.

In her speech Allison Couch from Vivocare said in all the partnerships, everyone comes together as a team.

“There’s so many people to thank; volunteers donating their time and their skills, some for as long as I’ve been here, which is fourteen years.”

City of Coffs Harbour Mayor Paul Amos swung by the party to acknowledge the good work of the special partnership that manifests as Chill n Chat café.

“I come here a lot.

“I see Julia’s happy face all the time,” he noted, referring to a loyal participant whose brother went to school with Mr Amos.

“The food is sensational.

“There’s not many places in Coffs Harbour where you can get a great, basic chicken salad sandwich, but here at Chill n Chat it’s a speciality that I come for pretty often,” Mr Amos told NOTA.


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