Zera Café recognized for employing neurodivergent adults
Zera Café has been awarded $100,000 by the Azrieli Foundation for its outstanding work in offering neurodiverse adults with special needs hands- on experience in the workplace.
“It’s very exciting,” said Zera Café founder and director Eve Rochman, on being the first organization to win the foundation’s INfinity Prize. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Eve Rochman, founder of Zera Café. Photos courtesy of Zera Café
Her social enterprise, which is just three and a half years old, was among three finalists, including La Cuisine Collective Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and the Toronto-based Goodness Gift.
It is estimated that only one in four neurodiverse Canadians can find work, according to Rochman. She hopes to use her non-profit organization’s prize money to change that.
“We need more businesses that make accommodations,” she said. “You set [neurodiverse adults] up for success by looking at what the person needs, what is meaningful to this person.”
In addition to the prize money, Zera Café will receive two years of professional coaching and support from the Azrieli Foundation. The foundation, based in Toronto, has been operating for over 30 years and funds institutions and operates programs in Canada and Israel.
Neurodiverse adults who work at the Zera Café kitchen in Côte des Neiges, gain catering experience by mass producing ready-to-eat meals that are sold on its website. They also cater meetings, school and synagogue events.
“We applaud the efforts of Zera Café and others who are pioneering innovative and actionable pathways to truly inclusive hiring practices,” said Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. “Zera Café is a great example of an initiative that creates equitable employment prospects for neurodivergent talent in Canada.”
Rochman, a seasoned cook herself, launched her non-profit in February 2020, right before Covid-19 hit. But she soldiered on, offering her protégés weekly online sessions and ended up preparing meals for people unable to get out of their homes.
In January 2022, the café moved from a synagogue into a modern and larger kitchen in Cummings Square and Rochman hired a professional support and leadership team. Their ready-to-eat meals focus on modern Israeli cuisine, centred on vegetables.
“Now we’re ready to scale up and grow bigger and better,” Rochman said after winning the award.