Paul Constance was on a business trip with fellow entrepreneurs when he was introduced to the idea of creating a coffee shop that catered to a unique employee.
Constance’s daughter Ella was born with Down syndrome, and a fellow businessman showed him a business model in the United States in North Carolina.
Lil E Coffee Cafe officially opened in Sun Life Plaza in Calgary last week. Constance partnered with a friend who was leasing space in the building and created the coffee shop.
“I’m hoping people experience just the pure magic,” he said.
“Every day they make you smile. They make you laugh and you forget what’s going on in your life.
“Whether it’s Down syndrome or autism, with an intellectual or developmental disability, we think that’s a niche that’s really a missing opportunity. We just want to give awareness in the community,” Constance said.
Rhiannon Taylor said it’s been her dream to work in a coffee shop.
“I’m learning a lot about the cash register,” said Taylor. “It feels like home to me in a lot of ways.”
Darby Taylor is a celebrated Special Olympics athlete but he said working at Lil E has given him different opportunities he’s dreamed of.
“It’s been really hard for me find a job,” Taylor explained.
“I’ve been trying to find a job — like a full, paid job — for awhile… since 2013.”
Taylor said he hoped the skills he acquired would help him gain employment at the new Calgary Flames arena when it opens.
“It gives me confidence. Just coming in here and greeting the customers and that they’re so patient with me and our employees because having autism is a hard challenge.”
Constance hoped that Lil E would also raise awareness in Calgarians about what it’s like to navigate life when developmentally challenged.
“It’s been an incredible journey to give these individuals an opportunity and that’s really what it morphed into.
“Now it’s not a coffee store but a platform to give them some experience.”
Constance said that he has been grateful for the support from donors and Calgarians that have stopped by Lil E.
Alana, Paul’s wife and Ella’s mother, said she has been overwhelmed by the reaction to the coffee shop and hopes it brings inclusion and awareness of different disabilities.
“What I have learned from Ella is that having Down syndrome does not define who she is,” she said.
“When we received the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, there was so much uncertainty. There were questions, there were tears, but what we didn’t know is that she would be one of the greatest blessings in our lives.”