The Hidden Cafe That Shouldn’t Be Hidden

It’s called The Hidden Café even though it is located on busy Jerome Avenue. For nearly 40 years, The Hidden Café has been serving lunch from 11:30 to 2:00 Monday through Friday. While it sounds like several dozen other small lunch spots around Bristol, this one is very special.  This quaint bistro is a part of the Bristol Adult Resource Center (BARC) and is changing lives every day – for the employees and its patrons.

BARC started in 1957 by a group of parents who felt that their children deserved a better life. Expectations at that time were  that families would just drop their kids off at institutions,” said Mary Etter, BARC Executive Director. “So this group of parents who strongly disagreed with this notion knew their children could be just like everybody else and deserved to stay in their community. These parents banded together along with other concerned parents across the country to create a national organization that is as relevant today as it was then.”

Etter says that BARC was affiliated with the Arc of Connecticut and Arc US but now is independent. While the structure has changed the mission and commitment hasn’t.  BARC provides services to over 150 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) during the day, as well as, 41 individuals in its residential programs located in homes throughout the area. The non-profit employs over 200 staff, approximately 50% are full-time and 50% part time. It is a gift of love for the staff, many of whom also work at other agencies that provide services similar to BARC.

Hidden Café employees begin their workday at 10 a.m. and usually finish mid-afternoon.  The employees range from 21 to 68, and some of them have worked at many jobs in the past but for some, it is their first job. Some live in apartments, group homes, or with their parents. The staff makes sure that everyone is taught the right skills and given encouragement to learn, grow and make choices for themselves. For diners, it’s not hard to see that the workers feel safe and confident in their abilities.

This isn’t a cadre of people who share any one medical or behavioral challenge.  They all have different developmental issues as some have Down syndrome, autism, or an array of other challenging physical and mental hurdles. To receive services at BARC, candidates must complete an overall assessment that shows that they have an IQ below 70 and that their development was hapmpered druing childhood. Frankly, they are special for the service they bring and the smiles on their faces. All come to work dressed neatly with black pants and a white shirt and practice good hygiene. Like workers at any successful diner, some chop fresh fruit and vegetables for the salad tray, make salad dressing, and carefully put together the day’s specials from the recipes they have learned to follow.

Others run the commercial dishwasher, dry dishes, clean bathrooms, and mop the floor. Another group is seating customers, setting tables, taking customer orders, delivering food, and clearing tables.  They talk to the public, stay focused, and work independently.  It’s obvious that BARC’s mission is lived every day – advocating personal growth and community inclusion for all they serve.Non-profits who provide these kinds of services rely very heavily on government funding and have very few options in the face of budget deficits.

Funding for BARC comes from grants by caring organizations such as United Way of West Central Connecticut and the Main Street Community Foundation and state departments that include the Department of Social Services and the Department of Developmental Services.  Other funding is from private donations and a couple of homegrown unique programs.  BARC offers a wide range of products and services to the general public including contracted yard service and Jerome Gardens – a greenhouse with an aquaponics system open Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  A variety of products are for sale including hand-painted pictures, BARC Bites – natural dog biscuits, kiln-fired and hand-painted necklaces and ornaments, cotton scarves, and special candy treats.  They even offer Easter pies for sale.

The menu for The Hidden Café suits any palette. Entrees range from a soup of the day to fresh garden salads to popular sandwiches such as clubs, hamburgers, and hot dogs.  If you are in a hurry, call (860) 584-0043 to pick up a fast lunch.  The Bristol Adult Resource Center’s Hidden Cafe is located at 621 Jerome Avenue.  Bristol is a city of small town values and hidden gems.  The Hidden Café should not be hidden but celebrated.

Mark Thomas has headed up marketing departments for OMC, Volvo-Penta, Invisible Fence, and Continental Airlines. He is the Marketing and Public Relations Specialist for the Bristol Development Authority. He was recently named to the 2018 Top Social Media “Movers & Shakers” list by PR News.  The Bristol Development Authority (BDA) works to improve the physical, economic, and social environment of the Bristol community by serving as the primary governmental organization dedicated to promoting commercial development, to preserving and improving the City’s housing stock, and to securing and administering the resources required to carry out these goals. The BDA is overseen by an appointed nine-member Board of Commissioners which governs economic and community development policies for Bristol.





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