otw cafe toronto

Toronto cafe employs people with lived experience of addiction and mental illness

There are lots of cafes in Toronto, but one very special one has been employing people with lived experience of addiction and mental illness for around 25 years.

Out of this World Cafe started out at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in 1994 as a vocational rehabilitation program with a profit sharing model and participants earning less than minimum wage.

otw cafe torontoCAMH divested the program in 2000 after deciding it was outside its mandate, completing a transfer in 2002 to Working for Change, a social justice organization which has operated similar businesses.

otw cafe torontoThe business has now grown to four cafes, a catering company and a coffee kiosk, with annual sales ballooning from approximately $50,000 per year to just over $1,000,000 pre-lockdown.
otw cafe torontoThe cafe is intended as a meeting place, and serves food made from scratch including sweet and savoury baked goods, breakfast, sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup and prepared meal dinner options like lasagna and chili.

otw cafe toronto

Most everything costs under or around $10.

otw cafe toronto

Their catering can be booked online for events of five to over a hundred people, with options for their cafe-style fare as well as expanded entree offerings and hors d'ouevres.

otw cafe toronto

OTW currently employs 22 people with lived experience of addiction and mental illness including management.
otw cafe toronto"The impact of work for those experiencing addiction and mental health issues is significant, it results in fewer hospital stays, fewer contacts with crisis supports and improvements in diet and housing," OTW Cafe director of food services Warren Hawke tells blogTO.

"Addiction and mental illness are often described as diseases of isolation and coming to work provides a sense of community and an important informal support network."

otw cafe torontoWhile OTW has accomplished a lot already, there's still a lot in store for the social purpose enterprise.otw cafe torontoIf you've been near CAMH recently you might have noticed it's currently undergoing redevelopment, with some spaces scheduled for demolition and others about to open.

otw cafe toronto

"Our next cafe will be a storefront on Queen Street West, following that will be a new dedicated space in the next phase of redevelopment," says Hawke.

otw cafe torontoLike the rest of the hospitality industry, the cafe has been set back by the past year and a half of lockdowns.

otw cafe toronto

"The affect of the pandemic cannot be overstated but we have been fortunate to see things improve in recent months," says Hawke.

"We believe strongly, that as the pandemic comes under control and people return to something resembling life as we knew it, that we are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves."

Out of This World Cafe is located at 250 College St. and 100 Stokes St. in Toronto.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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