COVER STORY | By Tanya Sterling | Photos by Kelley Sweet Photography –
Fulshear, Texas, a tight-knit, welcoming community with a small-town ambiance in northwest Fort Bend County, was recently named as one of the “Best Places to Raise a Family in Texas” by niche.com. There are several reasons for that recognition with one of them, no doubt, being Texana Café.
Texana Café serves tasty and traditional items, such as soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee creations and sweet treats. What is not traditional is that these menu items are created by individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities.
“We had a soft opening from December 2021 through February 2022,” said Kate Johnson-Patagoc, Director of Specialized Services. “Our grand opening was this past March, and we have gradually expanded staff, hours and the menu. We are now open Monday thru Friday from 8 am to 3 pm with fantastic breakfasts, lunches, coffees and sweet treats. We also sell home decor and accessories made by people with special needs.”
How Texana Café Started
Texana Café is the brainchild of the Texana Center, which is a nonprofit serving as a critical resource for mental healthcare, autism and developmental disabilities services to residents of a six-county area including Austin, Colorado, Fort Bend, Matagorda, Waller and Wharton Counties. Their mission is to deliver impactful, life-changing services to people with behavioral health issues and intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The Café has been a dream of Texana’s leadership team since 2015, and they have tirelessly worked to raise the funds, secure the location, and work with the Fulshear city officials to construct their building with the appropriate infrastructure and permits. They subsequently appointed and hired a team of experts, including their project lead, Senior Manager Beth Duncan, to get the project off the ground.
Why Texana Café Started
Historically, there has always been a plethora of services for younger children with special needs.
“We found that services for children were more robust, but once they graduate high school, there was not a lot of opportunities out in the community for them. There is a high percentage of high school graduates with special needs that are unemployed or underemployed,” explained Johnson-Patagoc. “Many are just sitting at home on their parent’s couch. The Café is intended to provide meaningful vocational training and employment. The Café provides real world experience in restaurant and retail skills to provide tools to help our Café interns lead successful, substantive and happy lives.”
The Interview and Hiring Process
Texana Café has an interview process to determine basic skills, but their intention is to provide the training needed in the actual restaurant and retail environment. No previous experience is required. They specialize in teaching new skills to people with varying abilities. That said, not everyone is interested or ready to work in the Texana Café, so there are other programs available, such as social skills groups and individual Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy.
“Our goal is to teach all of the interns as many of the skills possible for working in a restaurant or retail setting,” said Johnson-Patagoc. “That said, some interns acquire skills more quickly and are able to promptly move on to more technical services, such as working the cash register. Others take more time to master skills, such as sandwich making and dishwashing.”
Texana Café executed a soft opening from December 2021 through February 2022. Their grand opening was in March, and they have methodically expanded staff, hours, plus the menu items.
The restaurant has a Café Manager and two Café Coordinators who lead the team and help teach all of the Café Interns the restaurant and retail skills. The Café Intern positions are perfect for people on the autism spectrum, people who have developmental disabilities, and those with related abilities.
Rany Thommen, a Board Certified and Licensed Behavior Analyst, who has a high level of expertise in teaching skills to people with special needs and has a background in running a bakery, manages the café. The business also has two highly skilled Café Coordinators, Liz Arredondo and Amy Newton, who came to Texana with backgrounds in the culinary industry and in training others. Together, these three managers have employed and trained nine Café Interns so far in the short time they have been open. These trainers have every skill broken down into easy trainable steps. All of the training is on-the-job as they are a restaurant in full operation.
Texana’s Fulshear Location
The Texana Café is part of a portfolio of services, including the Texana Center for Advancement, a program that provides vocational and related classes also located in their Fulshear building.
“Both of these new programs help meet the needs of young adults graduating high school and desiring an opportunity to develop skills toward their future goals,” said Johnson-Patagoc.
Texana Center purchased the 14.5-acre tract of land located on FM 359 and Wallis Street in Fulshear following a long search for an appropriate building to operate an additional campus as the need for services was significant. The planned campus will be developed in three phases with the layout taking advantage of the existing oak trees to provide shade and a picturesque setting for the population and programs.
Along with the Café, there are two programs providing services in the back half of the building. It includes the third location of Texana’s Children Center for Autism, where one-to-one applied behavior analysis treatment is provided to children thru age eight. The second program is the new Center for Advancement geared to prepare teens and adults for life after high school whether that is for competitive employment or basic life skills. Currently, this program is offering a Social Connections Club twice a week, and a virtual Computer Class, art class and dance/exercise class all once a week. Many of the classes are available thanks to collaborations with wonderful community partners, such as Unite and Inspire, Cookie Joe’s Dancin’ School and Rustic Brush. Several new classes are also in the works with the goal to eventually have a college-like schedule offering a full array of classes. Inquiries about classes can be sent to email@example.com.
“The city of Fulshear has been extremely supportive,” said Johnson-Patagoc. “The residents seem to love Texana Café. We have many regulars who come in daily or weekly, but we can always have more business! Opening the Texana Café has been a dream come true for me. I hope it is also a dream come true for the wonderful staff and interns we have the privilege to employ.”
Texana Café is open Monday thru Friday from 8 am to 3 pm and is located at 7440 FM 359 South in Fulshear. For more information, visit www.TexanaCafe.com.
7440 FM 359 South, Fulshear, TX 77441
The reviews are in, and the recently opened Texana Café is a success!
“Food is delicious, staff is friendly – Texana Café is everything you need. The perfect lunch spot if you are looking for soups, sandwiches and the coffee is amazing. Not to mention you will be supporting a great cause.”
“We had the turkey sandwich and the chicken salad sandwich. Both were fantastic! Also get the passion fruit soda! Employees are very friendly, and the place is immaculate.”
“I decided to treat myself to a delicious lunch by the Texana Café. I ordered the turkey sandwich, roasted red pepper soup and cookie. They were delicious! I even ordered more to go because I just had to take some home to my husband. The staff were welcoming, warm and helpful throughout my entire meal. The ambiance was comfortable and kid friendly. Personally, and most of all, I loved the meaning behind the Café. It was rewarding to see exceptional individuals shine in their roles at the Café. I will definitely be coming back here and supporting the Texana Café!”
“Because our emphasis is on training people with special needs, our hours work around training staff availability. We always leave open the possibility of weekend hours and expanded hours in the future,” said Kate Johnson-Patagoc, Director of Specialized Services, Texana Center.
Scratch-made menu items include a variety of sandwiches, soups, tasty salads, coffee creations, plus baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and candies. Breakfast and lunch are created by individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities.
Hiring Café Interns
Texana Café is hiring Café interns to work as a part of the restaurant team with daily supervision. Café interns provide hospitality services to customers dining in the restaurant or shopping for retail items. This includes providing exceptional customer service, preparing food, serving food, packaging food, completing cleaning routines and assisting customers with retail items. Training for this position consists of skill acquisition for communication, social skills and other vocational skills necessary to complete job duties in the community setting. Training includes specific training in essential duties related to food preparation, food serving and retail sales, as well as training in accepting and responding to feedback from supervisors.