LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- This legislative session, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a bill putting an additional $50 million in the Pandemic Emergency Technical Support grant program, or PETS, which supports small businesses.
The program helped one small business, Empowered Café in Las Vegas, weather the storm. But it also helped their employees, some of them disabled, to keep their jobs – and therefore their passion and purpose.
"I love my job, I love my duty … My mindset is put customers first.”
These are the words of Devon Lewis, who works as a dishwasher at Empowered Café.
He has an intellectual disability, and he's been discriminated in job searches because of it in the past.
"They told him in the interview, 'We don't hire your kind here,’” said café co-owner Cassandra Barcelo. “And I was -- he was so upset, he called me crying, he was like, 'I’m done. I don’t want to look, no one's gonna hire me.’ And I was so upset because that's my passion that's my life, is helping people with disabilities find employment.”
That’s one reason Barcelo, and her husband Chris Barcelo, who’s worked in the food service industry for decades, opened Empowered Café in December of 2019. But when the pandemic hit, their business was hit hard.
It's located deep within the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, however, "Our building is closed to the public,” said Chris Barcelo.
The building remains closed to the public to this day.
"This situation's a little unique where it’s Monday through Friday, breakfast and lunch only for the state employees."
They had to temporarily close last March, causing Lewis to be furloughed. This, he said, was devastating. But when the café opened back up last summer, they brought him back, and he was thrilled.
"When we opened back up, I was so excited, I was so happy, I had tears of joy,” said Lewis.
The Barcelos are now focusing on take out, catering, and are working on a third-party delivery service, but business is still slow.
They used to get about 100 customers per day. Now, Chris Barcelo says they get about 20.
"So the [Paycheck Protection Program] helped us weather the storm ‘til, to get to about November, December. And then I’m like, the PETS grant is gonna get us a little bit further,” said Cassandra Barcelo.
Her husband said the PETS grant was a lifesaver for them.
"We are not giving up. We are trying our best to keep going,” she said.
It's the same mentality Lewis has for his work in the kitchen.
"I just want to say, to people who have disabilities, don't let it stop you, don't,” said Lewis.
It’s what puts the "empowered" in Empowered Cafe.
"Devon shows up every day, on time, he always shows up, he never calls out, he's the most loyal employee. So that other company, they're missing out,” said Cassandra Barcelo.
In the meantime, the Barcelos are optimistic that the state building will soon start to let more employees in, due to declining case numbers. They said they’d like to expand their staff and hire more people with disabilities.
"That's all that matters to us. As long as we can keep our mission and our dream alive, that way we can make it through this pandemic, and we can make it through this tough time, so that we can get through this and hire more people with disabilities,” said Cassandra Barcelo.
Empowered Café is currently doing curbside pickup, catering, and will soon be on Doordash and Postmates apps for delivery.