LivAbility Magazine
Photo of the new Café Cultivate. Large garage doors are open. It is the Ability 360 courtyard. In the right corner, a man in motion in a wheelchair. Sitting at the tables in the center are two women. Behind them stand two men at the café counter and inside, another man sits drinking coffee.
Cafe Cultivate, Coffee. Community. Catering.

Cultivating wholesomeness at Ability360

Story by Jennifer Longdon
Photos by Loren Worthington

After months of anticipation, Café Cultivate opened mid-December bringing coffee and catering to the Ability360 community. The option to grab a healthy breakfast or lunch after workouts and meetings has been eagerly awaited by the people who visit or work at the Ability360 Center.

“This is meant to be a safe, comfortable space centered around healthy, delicious food,” said Juli Bryan who, along with her husband Gregory Bryan own and operate Café Cultivate at the Ability360 Center. Every aspect of the cozy space from the apple green and plum walls, to the indoor/outdoor furniture clusters to the clean, organic menu is intentionally designed to foster a sense of wellbeing and comfort.

On most days, the large overhead doors are flung open to celebrate the beautiful Phoenix weather. Hydroponic tower gardens positioned at the corners of the courtyard supply much of Café Cultivate’s organic produce and create the relaxing burble of moving water.

Like many at Ability360, the Bryans have a personal disability story that is reflected in their work. Their 26-year-old son, Oliver, is a brain injury survivor. Injured in a motorcycle accident in October 2012, Oliver spent 18 months recovering at the Barrow Center for Transitional Neuro-Rehabilitation (CTN). While there, he and another recovering patient decided to open a Phoenix coffee shop, Oliver’s Sophisticated Bean, with his parents’ support. After helping their son successfully launch his operation, the Bryans turned their attention to their own passion project, opening Café Cultivate.

Juli Bryan, a pastry chef and certified nutrition coach, believes food can heal. Her menu marries the organic produce she grows on site with locally-sourced organic vendors for coffee beans, bread, raw honey, preserves and eggs.

“Currently we source most of our ingredients from 14 local vendors,” Juli Bryan said. “It takes a bit more time, but the end product is worth it in terms of taste, nutritional quality and environmental impact.”

Open Monday through Saturday, the kitchen offers fresh-made breakfast items, salads and sandwiches from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The Chipotle Grilled Cheese with the satisfying crunch of toasted jalapeno-cheddar bread and just enough heat from the peppers to balance the cheddar is a crowd-pleaser.

The Red, White and Bleu gourmet salad combines spinach, fresh strawberries, toasted almonds and generous amounts of bleu cheese with a poppy seed dressing that is light yet filling. The grab-n-go counter remains open until 5 p.m. each day, a quick stop for parfaits, wraps and deserts.

While the food is delicious and the atmosphere warm, what sets Café Cultivate apart from other bistros is their philosophy. Half of their staff are individuals with brain injuries. “We know first-hand how hard it is to reintegrate following brain injury,” Juli Bryan said. “It’s hard to get a job because you can’t see a brain injury. Then, it’s hard to keep it because employers’ needs for speed, memory and such can conflict with the complications of brain injury. We get it. We live it too.” 

On any given day, you might find employees and brain injury survivors like Daniel making bacon and eggs for breakfast sandwiches or talk to Mark who likes to tend the tower gardens in the courtyard.

In partnership with CTN, Oliver’s neuro-rehab facility, Café Cultivate will be a skills training center. Survivors recovering from brain injury interested in working in hospitality and food service will have opportunities to work on-site with a job coach to acquire or relearn marketable skills to take out into the real world.

“We cross-train everyone in our kitchen so they can do any job. Then, we look for the place they fit best,” Juli Bryan said. “We want people to love coming to work. There’s a lot of grace and patience in my kitchen.”

Gregory Bryan, who sold his real estate brokerage to focus on Oliver’s recovery, runs the front of the house. He welcomes guests, takes orders and makes the specialty coffee drinks and manages the paperwork needed to keep things running.

“We believe everyone has value, so we cultivate purpose,” Gregory Bryan said, quoting from the statement emblazoned on their wall. “We believe in our community, so we cultivate interaction.”

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.