RICHMOND, Va. - Like clockwork the hungry masses arrive, but the food at Positive Vibe Cafe is not the lone attraction for customers.
“They understand immediately what we are when we walk in,” owner Garth Larsen said.
The daily special at this eatery? Confidence, capability and communication.
"It gets a little busy. So then you have to keep up with everybody, but I can do it," lunchtime fixture Jeremy Grisson said.
The 28-year-old's job goes far beyond rolling out the red carpet for guests as the restaurant’s host.
"It teaches me independence. It teaches me that the wheelchair is not an obstacle,” Grisson said.
Grisson, who lives with a form of Muscular Dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair, graduated from Positive Vibe’s training program for people living with physical or mental challenges.
"All of my friends that I’ve made here are like family," he said. "We watch out for one another."
For Jeremy the four-week class evolved into nine years of employment at Positive Vibe.
The program was the brain child of Garth Larsen. Thirteen years ago, Larsen envisioned a place where the disabled, including his son, Max, could learn valuable work and life skills.
"Our motto was we want to make it more difficult for an employer to say ‘no,’” Larsen said.
Many graduates armed with new abilities move on to jobs in the service industry.
Garth’s initial goal was to train about five to 10 workers a year, but that number soared to 800 graduates in just a decade at the non-profit.
"It is the model we want to present to people," he said. "There are some people that don’t understand there are some people with disabilities who can do jobs well.”
Garth credited volunteers, customers and his dedicated staff for making his dream a reality.
"Jeremy is a rock. And he is the best person to greet people when they walk into this restaurant," Larsen said. "Everybody has a buy in here and that is what makes it work."
Jeremy Grisson is forever grateful that Garth not only hired him, but opened doors to an entirely new life.
"He gave me the opportunity to show that I can work and be like everybody else. So, he is like a great friend."
Positive Vibe Café is located at 2825 Hathaway Road in south Richmond just off of Forest Hill Avenue.
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