Yellowknife Coffee Shop Celebrates Everyday Diversity and Inclusion

Diverse cultures, races, religions, sexes, disabilities, creeds bonded together as distinct parts create an inclusive work environment where everyone can contribute based on their unique strengths. In 2009, the current owners of the Javaroma Gourmet Coffee & Tea, a coffee shop in Yellowknife imagined a friendly place where people could have good conversations over a good coffee. Today, this café is a must-see for Yellowknife residents who feel like they are welcomed in an environment that represents their community: tightly woven and rich in its diversity. 

Among the skilled baristas which produce the highest standard of coffee experience, Annie Strus has been working in the café since March 2019. Like her colleagues, Annie prepares the orders, delivers customer service, and helps clean the dining room. She was the second candidate hired through the Ready, Willing and Able program (RWA); a national program that makes employers aware of the benefits of hiring neurodivergent candidates and provides access to talented candidates with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum.

A dream comes true.

Javaroma owner, Rami Kassem explains that his commitment to diverse hiring is part of the culture of his company which has always looked to hire people with atypical backgrounds. Rami points out that by hiring the candidates through RWA – and their local delivery partner, Employability/Inclusion NWT – he could be sure that they were not ‘employees apart’, but rather gradually integrated into the various tasks all Javaroma employees perform. Rami stated, “Annie was a customer of the café before she became our employee. Her dream was to work here, and we were able to make it a reality. We wanted her to evolve in an environment that gives her the opportunity to progress, in the same way as other employees.

In terms of Annie’s on-the-job performance Rami explains: “The café offers several types of coffee and Annie refers to recipes (if needed) to prepare coffees according to the company standards. We have put in place strategies that help her respond to customer orders quickly. She also overcame her shyness, as part of the job is speaking to customers to ensure they are satisfied with their service. Customers love it. Employees too. Annie does social activities with her colleagues outside of work hours.”

Positive impact on customers

Like over 73% of other businesses who have hired via RWA[1], Javaroma has reported receiving great positive feedback from customers/clients regarding their commitment to inclusion.  Rami says that one of his clients came to offer Annie a bouquet of flowers to show her appreciation for the work she does. He adds: “The impact on the customers is undeniable and this is good for business. Some customers come to the café only because they want to encourage companies that hire in an inclusive way.”

Rami concludes by saying that his company is like a small ‘version’ of Canada; somewhere that offers everyone a chance to prosper.  Rami says “We have people of diverse backgrounds, visible minorities, allophones, people with diverse backgrounds, etc.” He also points out that employers must be open to inclusive hiring and never forget that everyone may one day find themselves in a situation of disability: hence the importance of creating inclusive work environments. Overall inclusive hiring is simply good for business all around: “The employees referred by RWA are loyal, and their attitudes are exemplary.”

[1] Study of RWA Employer Satisfaction, UBC-CIC 2018.