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French café that hires people with disabilities to open branch in New York City in 2023

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Ludovic Marin / AFP

The first Café Joyeux opened on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Cyril Douillet - published on 10/09/22

Cafes Joyeux first set up on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and has enjoyed tremendous success ever since.

Cafés Joyeux is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and it’s quite a success story!

The official event, held on September 19 at the Olympia (a famous Parisian concert hall) in the presence of 800 people, including three government ministers, included the presentation of a TV documentary miniseries about the the café chain’s surprising history, to be released on French television this fall: “l’Épopée joyeuse” (“The Joyful Epic”).

The yellow and black branding is now famous in France as an emblematic company in the field of inclusive catering, since each of its restaurants employs primarily people with mental disabilities and autism.

An incredible saga

Since 2017 and the opening of a first booth at the Rennes train station, which then moved to a full café on Passage Choiseul in the chic and teeming Opéra district in Paris, the story of Cafés Joyeux (“Joyful Cafés”) indeed resembles an incredible saga.

It was begun by Yann and Ludwine Bucaille, a couple of entrepreneurs from Brittany who were approached one day by a young person with a mental disability, who asked, “Do you have a job for me?”

These atypical restaurants immediately enjoyed media success, and it opened many prestigious doors for them. Supported by the Secretary of State for the Disabled, Sophie Cluzel, they were recruited to serve cocktails at the Élysée Palace –the official residence of the President of the French Republic — during the National Disability Conference in February 2020. A few weeks later, a second restaurant opened its doors on the Champs-Elysées, a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, thanks to the generosity of a business leader, in the presence of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. 

At the same time, the brand diversified, roasting coffee and multiplying their other products, with the support of free publicity campaigns by JC Decaux, the largest outdoor advertising corporation in the world.

The cafés have also continued to spread geographically: after having opened a café in Bordeaux, Lisbon, and a third one in Paris, the company will soon be present in Versailles, Lyon, Lille, Nantes, Montpellier, Marseille and Tours … and is now planning to open branches in New York and Brussels. Yann Bucaille says that he has received nearly 300 requests — from individuals, associations and communities.

Generosity and professionalism

How do you explain such success?

At the beginning, there was a profound and correct intuition: that it’s not necessary to exclude mentally disabled people from employment and the restaurant industry is a place where they can express their talent, especially in terms of relationships.

Above all, they understood that their inclusion can be an added value for the whole of society; hence the choice to set up cafés in the heart of large cities, in the most prestigious areas. This allows two worlds that are not aware of each other to meet. It also means the recognition of the “smallest” in the heart of this materialistic and pragmatic society which is so often indifferent to their fate.

Nevertheless, there’s something of a “joyful” miracle at the origin of the humble beginnings of this ultimately very simple concept.

“This project is beyond us,” admit Yann and Ludwine Bucaille, who make no secret of their Christian faith – without making a big show of it. The epic of the Cafés Joyeux is a human adventure based on benevolence and audacity, the alliance of generosity and professionalism. Such a combination inspires admiration and is contagious.

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Disabilities
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