The following blog post is being republished with permission of Autism Speaks. View the original post two participants in the Made by Mavericks barista training program for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“Made by Mavericks,” is a barista training program for individuals with developmental disabilities being run at the flagship Coffee Shed store operating inside Surrey Place Centre (an ATN site in Toronto).  It’s a new program created by Gerald Fantone, one of 7 Job Coaches who work for a unique charitable service organization called Common Ground Co-operative (CGC). Since 2000, CGC has been creating social enterprise opportunities for some unique and very talented people.  The organization provides job coaches and administrative support to 5 social enterprises that are operated by individuals with developmental disabilities including autism, or as they like to call them, business partners.

baristas2Gerald took inspiration from a series of competitions for baristas with Down Syndrome that were sponsored by Cafénto Coffee Company in Valencia, Spain and wanted to create something similar in Toronto but with a stronger focus on employment. “A huge part of my role at CGC is to think of new training programs for our clients in order for them to learn and hone new skills that may help them gain other meaningful employment outside of the social enterprise setting. While there are plenty of programs available, I wanted to tap into something that’s trade specific, and the coffee culture in Toronto is booming at the moment,” says Gerald.

Cafento took notice and in September, Gerald was invited to attend the 4th Annual Galician Down Syndrome Barista Competition held in Santiago De Compostela, Spain. Prior to the competition, selected participants most of whom have never worked with coffee before, go through a week-long training with the Cafento’s baristas. “It was an eye-opening experience. I was very eager to see their process and I came back feeling very inspired,” says Gerald.

The pilot training program has already started with CGC business partners.  So far, there are 9 business partners who can successfully extract espresso and foam milk.

Andrew Mathew, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is one of the business partners who underwent the pilot training and after 3 weeks, he could finally call himself a barista. “It was difficult at first. There are many things to remember and the foaming happens quickly so I have to stay focused but I like trying new things and Gerald keeps the training fun,” says Mathew (25), about his experience so far.

Now Gerald’s focus is to open the program to more participants outside of the organization and more importantly, to attract potential coffee shops in Toronto to host internships for graduates of the program.  “The talent is definitely there. I just have to bridge the gap with future employers and that is why internships are important. It provides real industry experience,” Gerald explains.

So far, the program has already received support from a few local cafes including Ezra’s Pound and de Mello Palheta Coffee Roasters. “Once I was introduced to Gerald, he was telling me about it, and without second thought, my answer was ‘Yes, I want to be a part of it, and want to support you as much as I can,” says de Mello Palheta  co-owner, Felix Cha. Felix plans on being actively involved in the training, and may also hire one of the baristas once training is completed.


Interested applicants may have to wait a bit longer since the full program (which will be offered as a fee for service program) is not slated to launch until the Fall of 2016. “We really want the program to be fully modified to the participants’ strength so we are creating visuals, training booklets, a website, and videos to help with the training. We also want to make sure that the employment aspect is in place beforehand,” explains Gerald. The program, which will be funded by the Harry E. Foster Charitable Foundation and Common Ground Co-operative, will provide graduates with a Certificate of Training.

When it finally opens, it will without doubt enhance the growth and creativity that Toronto’s robust coffee culture has embraced thus far.  Most importantly, it will provide inclusion to an often-overlooked community of people who have many untapped skills. Andrew Mathew agrees explaining “Before joining CGC, I had a hard time looking for a job. Now I look forward going to work, meeting new people, and drinking vanilla latte.”

For more information, please visit the following:

Made by Mavericks:

Common Ground Co-operative:

To learn about career opportunities for individuals with ASD: Autism Spectrum Careers

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks’ beliefs or point of view.

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