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Breaking Ground continues to break boundaries

Brett Grey (center) at Breaking Ground, the cafe run by Northeast Arc in Peabody, where he was a trainee in the program. With him were Northeast Arc staff members Corey Pierce (left) and Ricky Gaff, who both work at the cafe and like Grey are graduates of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.Northeast Arc

Three years after launching an innovative cafe in downtown Peabody, a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities and autism is preparing to open a second spot in Beverly.

Breaking Ground, the cafe Northeast Arcoperates on Main Street in Peabody, is a regular restaurant that also provides training and work experience for young adults served by the agency as a way of preparing them for jobs.

Opening Monday, Dec. 2, the new Breaking Ground will be located inside the Greater Beverly YMCA’s Sterling Building on Essex Street, operating on the same model as the Peabody cafe.

Tim Brown, Northeast Arc’s director of innovation and strategy, said the organization is thrilled to be replicating its Peabody cafe in another city.


“We have a large group of people looking for this opportunity to go through the training program, so by opening a second location we will be able to double our impact,” he said.

Brown said locating the Beverly cafe at the YMCA is fitting because the two organizations share common missions to serve diverse populations.

The new cafe will primarily serve the YMCA’s members and staff, but also will accommodate other community members who come to the Y for special events and meetings.

Danvers-based Northeast Arc opened the Peabody cafe in October 2016 “to provide a fully functional cafe for the community” while preparing its trainees for other employment opportunities, Brown said, noting that the cafe also does catering.

He said the model is distinctive because unlike similar training programs, it helps participants get jobs outside the cafe. That approach “was based on hearing directly from local restaurant owners that they were struggling to find quality employees for their entry-level positions.”

Participants are trained by the Arc staff who operate the restaurant, which is open daily for breakfast and lunch and offers items ranging from unique soft drinks and pastries to artisan sandwiches, soups, and breakfast items.


Working an average of 12 hours weekly, trainees learn many facets of the cafe operation during the 12-week program, from food preparation to running the cash register, stocking, and cleaning. Workers are not paid but receive the training, as well as job placement, for free.

All 30 people who have completed the program to date have been successfully placed in jobs, most at local restaurants but some in general service jobs.

Brett Grey, a 2015 graduate of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, completed the Breaking Ground program in August and now works at a Starbucks in Lynnfield.

Grey, 22, said he enjoyed the training and in particular “I liked making all the different foods.” At Starbucks, where he performs such tasks as doing dishes, cleaning tables, and taking out the trash, “I like interacting with all the different customers that come in.”

The Breaking Ground in Beverly will fill the space of an existing, conventional cafe whose contract with the YMCA is expiring. Northeast Arc will occupy the space rent-free, but has agreed to keep clean an adjacent dining area as an added skill to teach its trainees. The new cafe also will operate daily with many of the same menu items as in Peabody.

“We are very happy to have this partnership with Northeast Arc because of the wonderful work they do and because this is a real complement to the work the YMCA is doing,” said Judith Cronin, executive director of the Greater Beverly YMCA. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”


Brown said Northeast Arc is exploring the possible opening of two additional cafes at new YMCAs now under construction in Gloucester and Lynn.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.