The logo, a cheerful yellow round head, is already smiling at the visitor from outside. Upon entering, you will be greeted with a hearty “Bienvenue au Caf Joyeux”, “Welcome to the Cheerful Cafe”. The small fast food restaurant is located in one of the central business and banking districts near the Paris Opera. It’s rush hour there around the clock: Mathilde takes the order at the checkout, speaks slowly and very softly, and carefully types what she wants in the checkout. A pleasant contrast to the busy outside world. Mathilde takes the time to smile happily at the guest from under her service hat, also a little shyly. A young woman has Down’s syndrome.
The café in the Paris Opera District is one of seven “Cafs Joyeux” in France with more planned. They are all located in central, well-visited spots in the middle of downtown. President Emmanuel Macron even attended the inauguration of Caf Joyeux on the Champs Elysees. The Joyeux coffee shop opened in Lisbon in November and the first branch in Brussels will appear in June. Cafs Joyeux employees are people like Mathilde: people with autism, people with trisomy 21, people with mild intellectual disabilities. In order to serve the meals correctly, the operators of Joyeux Cafés have come up with an ingenious trick: when placing an order, each customer – here he is called the guest – receives a Lego brick of a certain color and size. The same Lego brick is on the tray on which the order is prepared. In this way, service personnel can easily find the right customer and the duty manager can easily track orders that are still open.
Behind the idea is a Catholic entrepreneur
The idea comes from the French entrepreneur Yanna Bucaille-Lanrezac. The practicing Catholic made a fortune from his family business, Emeraude, before devoting himself full-time to community service with his wife in 2010. The couple moved with their four children to the North Breton coast and founded the ‘Emeraude Solidaire’ foundation there to support projects for disadvantaged people. Among other things, it offers sailing cruises for the elderly, the homeless, prostitutes and the disabled. On one such trip, Theo, a young man with autism, asks him for a job. After this meeting, Yann Bucaille decided to start a social enterprise that would give jobs to people with disabilities. In 2017, he opened his first Joyeux coffee shop in Rennes, Brittany’s largest city. In 2020, he was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor, awarded by the former Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Nicolas Hulot.
The attempt to cause a scandal has failed
In 2020, a journalist from Basta! Magazine tried to initiate a polemic about the “reactionary Catholic galaxy” to which Yann Bucaille belongs. In it, she showed that his foundation “Emeraude Solidaire” is associated with projects and people who oppose abortion, gay “marriage” and surrogacy. Yann Bucaille explicitly rejected her accusation that the use of “Emeraude Solidaire” for people with disabilities was ideologically abused. The attempt to scandalize “Cafs Joyeux” was unsuccessful; the institutions still enjoy the favorable interest of local and national media – the concept impresses with its pragmatism.
In March 2022, Yann Bucaille was awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 by the Boston Consulting Group. He convinced the jury with the criteria of innovation, social and environmental impact and economic profitability of the structure. According to Yann Bucaille, eight cafes now have a turnover of five million euros. In addition to revenues from the coffee shop, the company finances itself by selling its own brand of coffee with fair trade coffee that is processed in France. “I only buy my coffee there to take it home,” explains Augustin, a regular customer. The “Emeraude Solidarit” Foundation primarily provides financing for start-ups for new cafes. Any surplus is used to open new cafes and train employees. In fact, in the recently established in-house restaurant management school, employees can gain recognized restaurant specialist qualifications, enabling them to find work elsewhere. Currently, Cafs Joyeux employs 83 disabled employees, supervised by 35 managers and catering specialists.
Shared flat is possible
According to the government’s Autism Plan 2018, there are approximately 700,000 people with autism and 65,000 people with Down’s syndrome in France. Unemployment among them is three times higher than among the average population. Only 0.5% of employees are employed in the labor market. people with intellectual disabilities. “Many of them are absolutely capable of working in normal companies and want to do it,” said Camille Lorthiois in an interview with Tagespost. A young woman opened Café Joyeux in the Paris Opera district in 2018. For them, the company’s goal is to promote cooperation with exceptional people. “Unique because they are not like most people, but also because they have great personalities.” The recipients are not only people with disabilities: “In today’s world we are afraid of differences, others, and overtaking the unknown. Caf Joyeux shows that living together is possible! ” Places are there to build bridges and enable fruitful meetings. “Especially in the Parisian financial world, with its race for success and efficiency, Joyeux shows that weakness is part of our world and gives it great value,” believes Lorthiois. Camille Lorthiois also explains the tremendous success of Cafs Joyeux with the theme of Cafs: “beautiful, real, good”. In fact, the cafes are extremely carefully designed, in shades of yellow and gray, with beautiful details in every nook and cranny. The daily changing menu features fresh, local, organic produce, prepared on site.
Dealing with social and environmental problems
The French-style social and solidarity economy aims to solve social and environmental problems that affect society as a whole. This applies not only to classic providers of social services, but also to companies from various sectors of the economy that take their social responsibility into account in a special way. One such social enterprise is Cafs Joyeux, which employs people furthest from the labor market. The sponsoring company has the status of “Entreprise Solidaire d’Utilit Sociale (ESUS)” (company in solidarity with social benefits), which has been confirmed in law since 2014. This status allows, inter alia, access to subsidies from public funds and tax reliefs. In addition to focusing on welfare benefits, ESUS must have democratic and participatory management and reinvest most of its profits into the company. The individual earnings of the management of the company are excluded.
According to the Secretary of State for Social, Solidarity and Responsible Economy, which is part of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the social and solidarity economy in France accounts for 10% of gross domestic product. 14 percent employees work in the structure of the social and solidarity economy. Often it is people who are looking for a special meaning in their work. For Camille Lorthiois too, the social and solidarity aspects were decisive: “Of course, meaning can be found everywhere. However, I would never apply for this position if it were a casual cafe. The idea of giving jobs to those who often could not find a job anywhere else was the decisive one for me. What convinced me to Caf Joyeux was the fact that the company is sociable and professional at the same time. “
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