TAC expands to food industry through a new COhatch restaurant

The Abilities Connection (TAC) is expanding through a “quick serve restaurant” expected to open in mid-February.

Fresh Abilities, a new salad restaurant inspired by Porttion, a Columbus-based start-up that deliverers healthy prepared meals nationally, will be one of five food tenants in COhatch The Market in downtown Springfield.

Someone from TAC saw the COhatch sign about a year ago and thought TAC could be part of the “community based” co-working model, James Zahora, CEO of TAC, said.

This led to the idea of growing and harvesting lettuce in TAC’s hydroponic greenhouse and shipping it to Fresh Abilities at COhatch, while employing and training people with disabilities.

“Fresh Abilities is not only creating jobs at COhatch and at the restaurant, but it is creating jobs in our hydroponic greenhouse,” Zahora said.

The hydroponic greenhouse will grow 200 pounds of lettuce a week, year-round, through a six to eight week growing cycle. TAC controls the amount of nutrients in the water for each stock of lettuce.

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“We are at a contained area where we use very limited pesticides,” Bridget Doane, director of development and donor relations at TAC said, as she mentioned recent contamination issues with romaine lettuce and spinach around the country.

Fresh Abilities will be TAC’s top priority in providing lettuce. If there is leftover lettuce, it will be sold at the Farmers Market, Doane said.

“As long as we are able to meet that capacity (for the restaurant), the hope is that we are able to provide an average of 40 pounds of produce a week to Second Harvest Food Bank,” Doane said.

The restaurant will serve salads, soups, and smoothies.

Specialty salads will include the Amazin’ Asian, the Springfield Legend, Alexander’s Great Greek Salad, TAC Caesar, and the Champion City Buffalo Chicken Chopped Salad.

Customers will also be able to create their own, order online, or choose grab-and-go salads.

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“It’s not necessarily about salads, but it’s about Fresh Abilities,” Zahora said. “It’s about people with abilities that are being trained to do things maybe some other people never thought they could do.”

TAC is working to give their employees the “most upward mobility” they can through emotional and skill training. They are preparing them to be able to go out and work in the community.

“We know the food industry has a workforce crisis,” Zahora said. “People with disabilities are some of the most reliable and hardworking people there are when people understand them and that’s what we do.

Zahora said he hopes to use this model in the future for other commercial ventures in and around Springfield.

“The concept is first of its kind nationally,” COhatch’s Growth Manager Tania Lehotay said.

TAC started in 1952 as a day school for people with disabilities and transitioned in 2006 to a fully private nonprofit corporation serving 245-260 individuals with disabilities.

“Everything we do here is only to train and serve the people with disabilities,” Zahora said. “We look at this as quite the opportunity, quite an expansion for us.”

Facts & Figures

245: Individuals served by TAC

188: Individuals who work on-site at TAC

166: Individuals using transportation

13: Alternate employment sites

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