Eric Wimmer and his wife, Marie Joanne, spent years cooking together as a hobby, but they always dreamed of opening a small restaurant when they retired.
Antoine Yver and his wife, Gaud, have 10 children, included four who were adopted and have Down syndrome. They wanted to make sure their children had opportunities for meaningful work when they aged out of the school system.
One evening in 2017, the two couples went to dinner and began talking about their dreams – for retirement and for their children.
“It was a way for the stars to align,” Eric said.
Two years later, the couples are the founders of a nonprofit, The Blue Bears Special Meals, a restaurant that opened in May and provides sustainable and meaningful work to a staff that includes young men and women who have special needs.
Eric, a retired cosmetic industry executive who is a chemist by training, is the head chef. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dessert. Dinners are available for take-out. The menu includes meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes as well as sandwiches, quiche, soup, salad.
Food is fresh and made on site. The dishes, he said, are made “with the biggest of hearts.”
“We are very lucky and we are blessed,” Eric said. “We have established a clientele – people are coming, and they are coming back.”
The employees who have special needs are paid NJ minimum wages for their work. Some also have work coaches who come to the restaurant with them. They range in age from 21- to 28-years-old. Families talk about the progress they see in their children at home since they started their jobs.
“We do believe if you offer dignity to a person, the person will answer,” said Eric.
Blue Bears’ mission is to provide meaningful and sustainable employment and a place of dignity to work for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, by preparing fresh and balanced meals every day.
What would Eric like potential customers to know?
“We are ready to welcome them with a smile and good food,” he said. “We need clientele because all of this needs money. Through their business and through their donations, we are allowing young people to have meaningful and sustainable jobs.”
Blue Bears is in the Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, and open Monday through Saturday.
To make a donation to Blue Bears or learn more about the nonprofit, visit their website at https://www.bluebears.org/. To recommend a grant through your Donor Advised Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation, visit the Donor Central portal on our website, www.pacf.org.