Lunch Bell serves up more than just food in downtown Winnipeg

There's a restaurant in Winnipeg that is working to create new experiences not only for customers but employees, too.
Sheldon Lachose prepares food in the kitchen at the Lunch Bell Bistro

There's a restaurant in Winnipeg that is working to create new experiences not only for customers but employees, too.

The Lunch Bell Bistro, located downtown on Main Street across from a homeless mission and beside a hotel that help addicts, is staffed almost entirely by those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

That includes Sheldon Lachose, who now suits up and gets ready for work 5 days a week.

"What's the best part? Prepping," Lachose said while at work on Wednesday.

But prepping isn't restricted to the kitchen at the Lunch Bell — after 20 weeks of training and preparing, half that time spent in the kitchen and the other half serving, workers are sent to other restaurants to put their skills to the test.

"We're teaching them sanitation requirements, safety, safe working temperatures. We're putting them into a real world environment so that they learn what they are doing is not make work, it's real work and makes a difference in the quality of the food," said Chris Tascona, executive chef at the Lunch Bell.

"We have them making cookies, making muffins, pies on their own with minimal supervision. And that's the goal, that they can become a valuable team member anywhere in the hospitality business."

The chefs-in-training are primarily referred to the restaurant through family services. Thanks to Winnipeg's Centre Venture Development Corporation, the Lunch Bell received close to $580K in federal funding through the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy. 

Although business has been slow since the Lunch Bell's opening in August, community response has been great, according to Dave Hebert, executive director of Changes, the agency that links eligible workers with the Lunch Bell.

"It's our target that we would be self-sustaining...if sales would allow us," Hebert said. 

Hebert estimates the Lunch Bell would need to serve 75 people every day in order to meet that goal.