On a table, three paper bags wait to be picked up by customers. Behind a large glass wall, employees in purple coats are busy in the kitchen. Two employees of a local SME come to order. “It’s good, original and it changes us from the business restaurant”, explains one of them. The Crossroads, like all restaurants in these times of epidemic, does nothing more than take out and is idling. “We lost 80% of our turnover”, calculates Catherine Harpey, president of the Association of parents of maladjusted children (Apei) Boucle de la Seine. The establishment, located in the eco-district of Gennevilliers, is not only a restaurant whose regulars appreciate its cuisine. It is also an establishment and a work assistance service (ESAT) whose eight employees are disabled. Cooking but also hospitality and service, they are the ones who keep the machine running, despite their cognitive and psychological difficulties. “The project, they are the ones who do it, explains Gilles Le Dot, one of the two supervisors. We are just trying to put everything in place so that they can go to the end. “
The slowdown in activity weighs on employees. ” We must make do. We don’t have a choice, but it’s a bit sad when there are no customers ”, laments Kamal, a small fellow with an angular face overhung by glasses. Opened in 2018, at the joint instigation of the municipality and Apei, the restaurant had to blend in with its environment and forge links with the neighborhood. “It’s part of the city’s project, to allow everyone to live together”, explains Anne-Laure Perez, first PCF assistant, who accompanied the birth of the place. The affair had also started well. Friendly, offering original dishes and desserts, made with local and largely organic products, the restaurant quickly gained a small reputation, especially among the employees of the many surrounding businesses. “We were surprisedremembers Gilles Le Dot. In June 2019, with the opening of the terrace, we were already reaching our cruising speed, with around 25 place settings per day. “ Two confinements later, this great success is worth it.
The crisis has also undermined the role of springboard that the restaurant was to play. “The catering sector is at a standstill and the transition to an ordinary environment is no longer possible, while the number of people referred to ESAT by the departmental disability centers (MDPH) is not decreasing”, deplores Catherine Harpey. Already in normal times, this transition from Esat to traditional work is a path strewn with pitfalls. “Employers are often reluctant to hire employees like those here, but in general, when they see how they work, they are less so. They want to get out of it. They don’t mind ”, emphasizes Gilles Le Dot. Even the internships of his charges that he managed to find in the world of gastronomy, where the supervisor once worked, have disappeared. “We can’t work as usual. And that slows down our learning “, laments Judith. This young woman with big eyes and painted nails is thinking about the future. “I’m not going to stay here all my life. I have to give up my place to someone who is more in difficulty than me. My goal is to go and work in an ordinary environment. “ If possible in the canteen of a nursery, because it “Likes to work better with children”.
“It’s like the training restaurant of a hotel school”
The slowdown also comes at a cost. The city provided support, with a free rental contract for the first three years. Salaries are also guaranteed. The regional health agency pays 50% of the minimum wage for each employee, the Apei adds 12%, more than double the legal standard, and the disabled adult allowance (AAH) completes the whole, to reach a minimum wage. “Fortunately, the state supports the sector and the revenues are maintained. But the situation is complicated because we are not generating sufficient surplus to cope with the decline in activity ”, continues Catherine Harpey. The association needs its own funding to set up new projects, but also to recruit supervisory staff, essential to support these employees towards their independence. They are the ones who guarantee the psychic security necessary to project oneself out of Esat. Denis knows something about it. After many failed experiences in an ordinary environment, he resumed, at Esat, a taste for work. “It’s satisfying to be supported and to make progress, he said. I hope I will gain enough confidence here to bounce back. “
Despite the crisis, the experience nonetheless continues in a good mood. At the Crossroads, everyone is a volunteer. Activity is the best way to keep mental disorders and weaknesses at bay. Everyone tries out new dishes, experiments, suggests improvements in presentation, or gives ideas for adapting menus to seasonal vegetables. “It’s like the training restaurant of a hotel school”, summarizes Gilles Le Dot. While waiting for the reopening, the restaurant is trying to attract new customers. In addition to the launch of his Instagram account, he is considering setting up a delivery service, to bring his good meals to the heart of homes in Gennevilliers.