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Tova and Larry Vickar in front of L'Arche Tova Cafe

Tova Vickar holding up a piece of mouthwatering royal gala apple strudel


L'Arche Tova Cafe- A Place of Hope and Good Food

by Rhonda J. Prepes, March 14, 2013

Larry and Tova Vickar recently invited Rhonda Spivak and I to a very special restaurant that is close to their hearts, the L’Arche Tova Café at 119 Regent Ave. West in Transcona, which opened its doors recently.

The café, which is named after Larry’s wife Tova, which means “good” in Hebrew, certainly lived up to its name. Not only was the décor pleasant, the atmosphere inviting and the food tasty, but the café does “good” in that it provides meaningful employment opportunities for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities who often face societal challenges like social isolation and discrimination.

The cafe is a social enterprise of L’Arche, an international organization founded in 1973, which operates six homes for intellectually disabled people, (in Transcona, Windsor Park and St. Norbert) where there are 28 residents and 25 - 30 volunteer assistants.

At the café, we met a resident who helped greet customers and smiled on our arrival and we sat with Kevin, another resident, who joined us for lunch and clearly enjoyed hanging out there. Other residents helped serve or perform kitchen work alongside other staff members.

“Our goal is to have an attractive place with excellent service and food and to represent people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a positive light. This is ‘a place of hope’ because we offer support and purpose for people with disabilities,” said Jim Lapp executive director of L’Arche Winnipeg Inc, who joined us for lunch. He noted that L’Arche has started this type of café only in one other place in the world, Ireland, and has been able to succeed here through the dedication and commitment of the residents, and the backing of charities, businesses and also philanthropists such as the Vickars.

With fresh, made-to-order entreés, and homemade desserts, the Café offers a delicious array of breakfast, and lunch selections, all of which are very reasonably priced. The Meditteranean salad that Rhonda Spivak ordered (Tova Vickar’s own recipe—real Greek style salad with no lettuce) was terrific and plentiful, and my double decker clubhouse sandwich was delicious. When you go, we recommend you leave room for the scrumptious Tova royal gala apple strudel. This is Tova Vickar’s personal recipe which she makes for Jewish New Year’s and the strudel alone is well worth the visit to Transcona ! The Café is open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and gift certificates are available. To view the menu, catering and take-out menus click here:

“We had to work on getting the recipe just right in the kitchen and Tova came in herself to show us,” said Lapp, who noted that the café has been well received in the neighbourhood and in Winnipeg and has been steadily busy.

“The café is a day program where people with disabilities can come to work and interact with others. Our employees with disabilities come from L’Arche and other agencies. We also offer work experience for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities from Kildonan East Collegiate food prep program and other high schools,” said Lapp.

For example, he noted that “a young man from Kildonan East Collegiate came to the café every day last summer as a volunteer because he loved it so much here. He learned how to make breakfast on the grill and he now is on work experience at the Café.”

“We have another young man who lasted only three days at all his previous work placements. He has been here since last April and he loves what he does.”

“We have people who work here with a full range of abilities but, our main goal is to always have someone with a disability here hosting because we want the public to get to know them and their gifts.”

Lapp, who has been associated with L’Arche since 1974, was a member of its Board for 16 years and was a live-in assistant for three years, told us the story of how the Café came about.

“The L’Arche house leaders suggested opening a café six years ago. We received a grant from the Assiniboine Credit Union. That allowed us to have a jazz night and do the catering for it.”

“The grant also allowed us to have a food sampling booth at the Hi Neighbour Festival in Transcona where we asked people what kind of food they would want in a restaurant. It was kind of like a test market and survey.”

“When I became community leader 3 years ago, the board decided to go ahead with a feasibility study through S.E.E.D. Winnipeg which turned out with positive results. S.E.E.D then did a business plan. Both the study and the business plan were also funded by the United Way. Based on the business plan, we decided to go ahead with the Café.”

Lapp continued, “Business is going really well. We’ve had some challenges with staffing and stuff like that but, right now we have a really good manager, Petra Nolan. She was actually part of the group that got this idea going six years ago. We are very fortunate to have Petra.”

“Through Spark we had an interior designer who volunteered her time to design the interior of the 47 seat Café. We have had events held in the cafe and we do catering. We have two really good cooks now and we plan on opening in the evenings. In the summer we will have an outdoor seating on a patio.”

As Tova Vickar, who was raised on a kibbutz in Israel, said, “When I lived on a kibbutz I worked in the kitchen alongside people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We were all integrated together. I always felt a connection to them and I think they felt a connection to me. I am proud to be associated with this Café and all the good it is doing for the community.”

“L’Arche in known for providing superior care and nurturing environments for developmentally handicapped individuals. I am happy that L’Arche Tova Café has turned into a local meeting place with a friendly atmosphere that is conducive to conversation and interaction,” said Larry Vickar, owner of Vickar Automotive Group.

“If you have lived in the L’Arche community for any length of time, like I have, you discover how much people with disabilities can teach us. They are“people of the heart”. They accept you the way you are and they accept themselves for who they are, as well,” said Lapp.

“When they are in a place like L’Arche they feel loved, accepted and confident.”

“At L’Arche the people are not our clients, they are our friends. I am really grateful for what L’Arche has given me. These are my friends and I often spend my personal time with them going out for lunch and stuff like that.”

The Café is also backed by many local charities and businesses: the Winnipeg Foundation, the Thomas Sill Foundation, the United Way of Winnipeg, L’Arche Canada, the Manitoba Com

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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