Bistro puts job skills on the menu for those living with mental illness

Rainbow’s End assistant manager Tom Varley is a testament to the power of meaningful work

Look behind the stainless steel prep counter at The Rainbow’s End Bistro and you’ll find a pot of gold — a meaningful job for those with lived experience of mental illness.

The Bistro anchors the busy food court at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s West 5th location. With a focus on serving healthy, high-quality food, it’s a social enterprise providing training and employment for those living with mental illness.

One in five Hamiltonians will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. Many want to return to work, but struggle to find opportunities. The Bistro not only provides its team members with training in safe food handling and exposure to a fast-paced kitchen environment, it proves they can be productive contributors to both workplace and community.

“The people who work here show us that despite some very difficult hurdles, they continue to climb,” says David Williams, executive director of Rainbow’s End. “I learned my relentless enthusiasm from them.”

Accommodations come standard. “We adjust the jobs to fit the people,” says Tom Varley, who started as kitchen help and is now the Bistro’s assistant manager. “Some people come in beaten down, with no self-confidence. Then they see they’re a vital member of the team. The change is amazing.”

Tom speaks from personal experience. “I was an addict for 25 years. You fool yourself into thinking you’re functioning but you’re not. Now I’m fully self-sufficient, and helping others, too. It’s like night and day.”

With support from an HCF grant, the Bistro is enhancing its training program with six-month paid internships and expanding its catering services. New signage, equipment and marketing help from Mohawk College students are also on the menu.

“We’re successful because of the hard work of our team members,” David says. “They belong here. They belong in the community. And they’re contributing to the success of Hamilton.”

Excerpt from 2017 annual report