Stephanie Cartier

Not Just Any Restaurant — There is Something Special About This Place

Meet Stephanie Cartier. She is the co-Founder, with her husband Mark, of No Limits Cafe, a new restaurant on Route 35 in Middletown.  This is not like any other restaurant in town.  It is a lunch Cafe employing people with Intellectual Disabilities. It is their belief that EVERYONE has the ability to be a contributing member of society.  Their employees will have a sense of pride and purpose, while serving our customers great food. No Limits Cafe will be an inclusive win-win for the community.

It definitely gives her inspiration and drives her seeing what people with special needs are capable of and she wants everybody to see that.

Q: When did you create the idea for No Limits Cafe?

A: “When our daughter, Katie, who has Down syndrome, was 18, we thought what she is going to do for the rest of her life.  She could stay in the school system until the age of 21.  But after 21, she would no longer have the support of the school system — it’s called “Falling off the Cliff.”  We wanted something more for her. We wanted her to work and do something meaningful.  Katie always worked.  But employers give people with special needs 4 or 5 hours of work.  What could we do to help Katie and others with special needs?  A restaurant idea came to mind, but since we have no experience in this business, we decided to think on it some more.

Two weeks later we were watching NBC Nightly News and Lester Holt did a story about a restaurant in Texas called Hugs Cafe.  It was just like what we wanted to do.  My husband, Mark and I decided to go to Hugs Cafe to see what it was all about.  They were amazing to us.  They allowed us to work there for 3 or 4 days, we ate there, and each night we would meet the founder, Ruth Thompson and her husband who would tell us how it all worked.  They told us about the fund raising and shared so many helpful hints and they continue to help up to this day.

We were convinced we can bring this back home and do this in Middletown.  But this had to be a real business, with employees getting paid minimum wage — this was not going to be a “day program.”

Before returning home, we sat on a curb eating some ice cream, we were thinking what could be a good name for our restaurant.  Our daughter had just been through graduation and in her yearbook she picked a quote — ‘Don’t limit me.”  It comes from Megan Bomgaars, a reality TV star who has Down syndrome on a show called Born This Way.  So we ended up with No Limits Cafe.  And right there, sitting on a curb we got on our phones, registered the name, set up the website URL, an Instagram account and we knew we could do it.”

Q: Do you do fund raising?

A:  “Absolutely!  We are a 501 (c) 3 and we have to raise money to sustain the business.  We’ve had a gala at McLoone’s – Tim McLoone is a big supporter of ours.  We had a Super Bowl raffle where the winner got a trip to the Super Bowl.  We’ve had raffle to win a box at Yankee Stadium.  Our website is set up to accept donations and you can also sign up for a variety of volunteer positions.”

Q: Who will you be employing?

A: “Most employees will be adults with special needs.  But we will also have four others — me who doesn’t get paid,  a manager and 2 chefs.  When we started the hiring process, we advertised the position on our website and on our Facebook page.  We had an overwhelming response.  We actually had to take down the message.”

According to the website, No Limits currently has 33 employees with Intellectual Disabilities in training.  As they interviewed and told people they were hired, they would cry, their parents would cry.  Nobody hires people with special needs.

Everyone gets paid the same — minimum wage, no matter what job you have.   Typically, restaurants pay a couple of dollars per hour and servers receive gratuities to make up the difference.  But at No Limits Cafe, all employees will be paid minimum wage and instead of gratuities, patrons can leave donations to support the restaurant.

Q:  When do you think you will be open for business?

A: “I’m thinking early 2020 because we have to train a lot of people.  There was so much that had to get done to get the restaurant ready and I have to say that this community is amazing.  So many people and local businesses have come together and helped us, providing us with services and materials at their cost or free.  It has been just incredible.  I’ve cried a lot of happy tears.”

No Limits Cafe website has a beautiful tribute to those that gave so generously to them during this process — please click here to read more.

Q: What else do you want to share about the Cafe?

A: “Phase 2 we plan to create a training program at night when the cafe is closed.  We will be training adults with Intellectual Disabilities, who do not work here.  We have a community liaison that will go around to other local restaurants in Red Bank and Middletown to talk them about hiring someone that we have trained.  And we will continue to support them when they go work in another restaurant.  The goal is to change the unemployment rate of people with disabilities, at least locally.  We hope our Cafe has the “multiplier effect” — people who come to eat here would think they may be able to hire someone with special needs and see that everyone has potential.  That is our hope.

I hope that I see more people with special need employed.  I would hope that one day there would be no need for a No Limits Cafe; that the unemployment rate for this group is so low we would not need to exist.  That is my ultimate goal.”

Q: How long have you lived or work in Middletown?

A: “I’ve been here in Middletown for 23 years.”

Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?

A: “Don’t underestimate anybody. Everybody has potential.”

Q: What is something on your bucket list?

A: “I would like to travel more.”

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met?

A: “The most interesting person for me is my daughter Katie.  We should be like her,  she is funny, she doesn’t feel jealous, she’s loving, and she is SASSY! She’s not judgmental and I’ve learned from her not to be judgemental.”

Q: What is your favorite thing or something unique about Middletown?

A: “What I loved is the big town with a small town feel. I can be anonymous or not.”

Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?

A: “Family, Lincroft and Love.”

It is worth sharing No Limits Cafe mission statement:

EMPOWER adults with intellectual disabilities by providing jobs and job training to help them lead fulfilling lives within our community and to increase awareness of their potential.

“Eat well, do good.”


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