With its hot-pink signage and door, Gabi & Jules bakery café in Port Moody is impossible to miss, especially on a dreary, wet winter day.
Inside, that vivid lipstick colour shows up on some of the walls and trim; a La Marzocco espresso machine—made by hand in Florence—has been painted the colour of Dubble Bubble gum.
There are heaps of cookies, biscotti, muffins, bars, squares, croissants, and crostadas, all crafted in the back of the homey space located at 2302B Clarke Street.
Then there are the pies that started it all three years ago.
Strawberry-ginger-peach is a signature pie; classic apple is a perennial favourite. Seasonal flavours include salted-caramel pear and chocolate-hazelnut ganache, the latter akin to Ferrero Rocher in pastry form.
New this year is cranberry-orange custard: the tart berries atop turn a deep purple from baking and ooze violet-coloured juice into the creamy, citrusy filling under a thick, browned crust. It’s a dessert for which Santa would fly across rooftops.
Gabi & Jules serves up more than all-natural, buttery baked goods, however. Every order comes with a slice of inclusivity. The business is a local leader in supporting diverse abilities, with a commitment to employing people on the autism spectrum.
Lisa and Patrick Beecroft named the café after their two daughters: Juliana, who’s seven, and 11-year-old Gabriela, who has autism. Of their team of 36 people, 10 live with the developmental disorder that’s characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.
The company is a member of the Presidents Group, a provincial network of business leaders championing more accessible, inclusive workplaces.
“Autism is such an isolating diagnosis,” Lisa Beecroft tells the Straight in an interview at the pie shop. “As people get older, it becomes even more so, because there’s less understanding. This is about meaningful employment. We want to see a society that sees that everyone has something to offer and every job is a valuable job. Why is the person serving you coffee seen as ‘less than’? This job is not less than. There needs to be a shift.
“At the core of it,” she adds, “it’s all about kindness and understanding and acceptance.”
Here are some examples of what the inclusive workplace looks like at Gabi & Jules: one of its employees who is on the spectrum is mostly nonverbal. He comes in for one hour two times a week to put together the company’s trademark pink, white, and black pie boxes.
“He is so happy when he comes here,” Beecroft says. “He can build boxes like nobody’s business; he can do 100 an hour. He has purpose and meaning and place—all the things that come with a job. We’re open-minded as to how we find a fit for the person.”
Another worker, the café’s dishwasher, has shown up an hour early for almost every shift since his first day, taking the bus and the SkyTrain on his lengthy commute from Surrey.
“He excels,” Beecroft says. “He’s happy. For him, this is a really good job. And he’s invaluable to us.”
If solid communication skills are important in any workplace, they’re especially so in an inclusive environment: honesty, openness, and clarity are crucial.
There have been ups and downs with respect to integrating people of varying abilities into workflow and processes, Beecroft says. Although it breaks her heart to have to turn people away who show up at her door hoping for work, Gabi & Jules is a business first, not a charity.
The small company works with job coaches through various local organizations that help workers become familiar with their role and provide guidance down the road with things like interpersonal skills. Although the Beecrofts will go to great lengths to support people who are on the autism spectrum, their employees still have to work at a certain level.
Promoting diverse abilities as a business leader is not easy, but Beecroft wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides being a personal imperative, employing people with autism also makes business sense.
“The loyalty is incredible,” she says. “There’s an appreciation for what we all take for granted, for opportunity and the job. There’s a bit of a shift happening with younger folk, too: they have a greater awareness of the world around them. They appreciate what we’re trying to do and want to be a part of that. They want to be involved and seek us out.”
For businesses seeking to make inclusion a part of their practice and culture, Beecroft says that there are many resources available to help, even if it’s a learn-as-you-go journey.
“We’re always challenging ourselves: are we doing the best we can to make sure we’re walking the walk? Are we including people to the best of our ability?
“The joy that it can bring is incredible,” she adds. “We’re very blessed with having great people work for us and awesome customers. We love what we do. Plus, we get to serve pie. Pie makes people happy, and there’s a lot of joy in that.”