By Nils Skudra
One of the most popular hospitality attractions in Greensboro is Chez Genese, a French restaurant located in Greensboro, North Carolina that features exquisite French cuisine for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. A distinguishing aspect of this restaurant is that just over fifty percent of its employees are adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who bring a unique range of skillsets to their jobs.
The Chez Genese team is purposely composed this way so that they truly have an integrated and adapted model. Since there has been a growing demand for people with disabilities in the workplace as part of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, Chez Genese has become an important hub where employees with IDDs can contribute their expertise while developing valuable job skills that will significantly benefit their long-term employment prospects.
Today I had the opportunity to interview Kathryn Hubert, the Chez Genese owner who has kept the restaurant in operation since its opening in the fall of 2018.
When asked about Hubert’s background in food and beverages, she elaborated upon her academic and professional experience in the culinary field: “I went to community college and graduated with an associate degree in culinary studies, moved to France for a year, worked in a restaurant in the Burgundy area, and then moved to Greensboro and studied hospitality management at UNCG.” We subsequently discussed her motivations for opening Chez Genese, of which Kathryn said there were a variety of different reasons. Among these, she reflected on her experience of having several family members with autism, which influenced her desire to “create change, starting within my own industry.”
Regarding what distinguishes Chez Genese as a restaurant, Kathryn replied, “Hopefully what makes it stand out is that we create a place of belonging, and I hope the way we’re doing business is different from a lot of other businesses, specifically those geared toward disability employment.” This also factored into Kathryn’s decision to specialize in working with people with disabilities, as she reflected that “family history, and also experience career-wise in the disability field from working in the school system” played a major role in her desire to open an employment venue for members of the disability community.
“I have always enjoyed the relationships I have with family members and colleagues with disabilities,” she explained, and “the most rewarding thing about my job is when I see someone step deeper into who they are as a person and are excited by that.” This is an important insight since people with IDDs are often stigmatized for their disabilities, with some encountering the expectation that they mask their identity and blend in as part of mainstream society. However, working in a venue alongside other people with IDDs can foster a sense of group cohesion and community, and Kathryn believes that this workplace culture encourages them to be themselves in a comfortable way.
On a final note, when asked about what she hopes to accomplish for people with IDDs through employing them at Chez Genese, Kathryn replied, “I hope for it to be a place for long-term employment or a steppingstone for them to have more confidence in themselves as teammates and in their ability to contribute their skillsets to the table.”
Reports have shown that people with disabilities display a strong work ethic and commitment to their jobs, together with excellent organizational skills and an ability to work effectively in a structured environment. By patronizing Chez Genese, members of the public will be supporting its mission of creating gainful employment opportunities for people with disabilities, while at the same time enjoying an opportunity to savor delicious French cuisine!
I am an artist on the autism spectrum. I received an MA specializing in Civil War/Reconstruction history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I have been drawing hundreds of Civil War-themed pictures since the age of five and a half. I recently completed a secondary Master’s in Library and Information Sciences. As a person with autism, I have a very focused set of interests, and the Civil War is my favorite historical event within that range of interests. It is therefore my fervent desire to become a Civil War historian and have my Civil War artwork published in an art book for children. I am also very involved in the autism community and currently serve as the President/Head Officer of Spectrum at UNCG, an organization I founded for students on the autism spectrum. The goal of the organization is to promote autism awareness and foster an inclusive community for autistic students on the UNCG campus. The group has attracted some local publicity and is steadily gaining new members, and we shall be hosting autism panels for classes on campus in the near future.