Smart Partners

Lil E Coffee Café

The Cafe Connecting People With Disabilities With New Opportunities

Buying a cup of coffee in the morning comes so naturally that it doesn’t always register as an important part of the day. But Calgary’s Lil E Coffee Café is serving up a lot more than just java, and their unique social mission is putting smiles on the faces of employees and customers alike.

Lil E exclusively employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, providing opportunities to a demographic that traditionally faces high rates of unemployment. The shop is named for Founder and Director Paul Constance’s three-year-old daughter Ella, who has Down syndrome.

“Your five dollars are helping these individuals get a job and change their life,” says Paul. The ability to have a meaningful impact, especially for his daughter, is what drives Paul. “She’s going to be 18 one day,” he says. “What’s her opportunity? How can we start paving the way for not just the Ellas in the workforce now, but all the future Ellas?”

The company chose to partner with Shaw Business for their phone and internet needs because Shaw Business was interested in answering some of those same questions. “We see what Shaw does in the community, they’ve been a big part of the Down Syndrome Society,” says Paul. “Whenever we have the ability to interact with someone with those same values—those are the corporations and people we want to work with.”

We see what Shaw does in the community. Whenever we have the ability to interact with someone with those same values—those are the corporations and people we want to work with.

Paul Constance, Director and Founder of Lil E Coffee Café

Partnerships with different local businesses and corporations make the non-profit cafe more than a job opportunity—it’s also a career platform that will guide former employees into the workforces of those partners, creating a success pipeline for anyone who works there. One of their business pillars is a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” to build 10,000 careers.

Of the core employees working since the cafe’s February 4, 2021 opening, five are people with autism, and five are people with Down syndrome. They are overseen by a general manager who’s always on the go ensuring the new employees have what they need to succeed. Shaw Business’ SmartVoice system helps Paul and his team stay on top of things. “We need to make calls to suppliers, and now the voicemails come to my email,” he says. “It’s given us the flexibility to take calls from our mobile phones, and operate more efficiently.”

Cafe exterior
A customer enjoying coffee and reading a newspaper outside Lil E Coffee Cafe

Having reliable connections means this cafe can focus on spreading awareness

They also use Shaw’s Business Internet to connect their entire system, which employees use for everything from the POS to clocking in. “The WiFi is huge for us,” says Paul. “If we weren’t able to connect, we wouldn’t be able to take cards or track our inventory that day. Our employees would all have to go manual.”

And Lil E is all about the employees—who are, in turn, all about the customers. While the cafe has gotten media attention for its unique approach, these are members of the community doing their jobs well, and building their futures. “At the end of the day they want to live, and learn, and thrive in the community like anyone else,” says Paul.

The cafe strives every day to live up to the idea that “Greatness starts with a belief that each person has what it takes.” Paul sees the impact of that statement every day. “Seeing greatness that other people might overlook is so important. I’m grateful to be embraced the way we are and seeing how we’re impacting so many lives.”

“When you get to meet these individuals, you see how this small little cafe has opened up the world to them.”