– Emily Southwood –
Café COOP Racine recently took up new roots within the old Délice de L’heure at 2 Rue Dalhousie in Huntingdon. Part cozy café and part social enterprise, the move to a larger location will allow the team to continue their social mission and serve delicious homemade food.
The bright new haunt with a view of the river and the Mill is a dream come true for the COOP members, who always envisioned the location as the ideal spot. Now open from 6am, six days a week, with more evening hours to come, the café aims to serve customers looking for quality comfort food, ranging from a traditional bacon and eggs breakfast to POKE bowls.
Since 2012, the COOP has been directly creating social change by employing local youth who wouldn’t otherwise have job prospects. Nathalie Collins—who still heads up the now twenty-person team of part-time, full-time, and stagiaires—initiated the project to transition young adults into the work force by giving them employable skills. Many young adults within the Huntingdon area face challenges surrounding social issues, lack of education, and the ability to acquire employable skills. The COOP works directly to employ more young adults in the culinary arts, and will now teach them to serve in a restaurant as well. “We pair up a server with lots of experience with someone with none to teach them the job,” explains Collins.
The scope of COOP Racine extends far beyond the café with its members cooking full time at Arthur Pigeon School, and most recently at École Notre-Dame three times a week. The goal of meal preparation within the schools is twofold: to provide employment and culinary training for those who face challenges finding employment; and also to augment the standard of cafeteria food. Nathalie Collins explains, “We are always finding new ways to use quality produce. Our kale chips sell out every day and we sell snack bags of dehydrated fruit and oven baked spicy chicken pieces. I always tell students—try it first and then I’ll tell you what’s in it! Then they discover that cake with avocado is good.”
Another new facet of the COOP’s mission is to recuperate and transform usable “food waste” from grocers and farmers into healthy meals. The project uses produce collected by Table de la sécurité alimentaire and Moisson Sud Ouest. The team can prepare up to 400 bags a day of cut vegetables and fruit with instructions on how to prepare them. Seventy-five percent of the food then goes to local Haut Saint Laurent food banks and twenty-five percent goes to the schools. As if their plate isn’t full enough, the COOP team also still provides breakfast and lunch catering to local businesses.
The COOP is very proud of the new location and grateful to all of the community members who helped them with the transition. “We had teachers here from the high school cleaning the kitchen and a regular customer who looked around at the fresh paint, new renovations, and wrote a check to help with the costs.” Collins beamed as she described the outpouring of help received from Carrefour Jeunesse, Place aux jeunes, Maison des jeunes and the CLSC. The Huntingdon community has clearly rallied around the passionate Collins and the entire COOP team, who are in the business of changing social outcomes, not to mention serving up delectable 100% butter croissants.