No Limits Cafe; Eat Well, Do Good

June 2021


When you first step into No Limits Cafe, you know it’s a special place. Something about the vibe…the ambiance, decor, or maybe the smiles on the faces of the people inside, instantly gives you a feeling of comfort and love… a feeling that you belong. By the time you’ve had your meal and are ready to leave, the feeling is tenfold.

No Limits Cafe was the vision of Stephanie Cartier and her husband, Mark, who realized that an opportunity was missing from their daughter, Katie’s life, that so many with intellectual disabilities were missing…a chance at independence. When Katie turned 18, the family began to contemplate her future, and where she might be, where they all might be, in a few short years when her public education program ended. For those with intellectual disabilities, most full-time educational programs terminate at age 21. So, the years proceeding this age might contain an element of uncertainty or dread for many families navigating a scarcity of options. For those with intellectual disabilities this time is referred to as “falling off the cliff.”

Around this time of exploration and contemplation, Stephanie and her husband came across Hugs Cafe, an establishment in McKinney, Texas that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Stephanie had toyed with the idea of a restaurant, but had neither restaurant experience, nor a business model to follow, especially for a restaurant of this kind. The Cartiers decided to visit Hugs Cafe to see if something similar might be feasible in New Jersey. After returning home they were determined to bring a similar business model to their hometown area, to help their daughter and others in the area facing the same challenges as their family.

The Cartiers got straight to work and created a name for their brainchild, followed by a website, social media accounts, and began scouting out a location that worked; and where they landed is perfect, almost. The site they chose, on Route 35 in Middletown, New Jersey, needed a total renovation. They completely opened the space (kitchen included), added all new flooring and lighting, rustic brick and corrugated metal to the wall for warmth, and a brand-new kitchen, save the pizza oven. Almost all the space is wheelchair accessible, down to the lowered kitchen “pass” and extended windowpane on the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room.

With the care and attention to detail that the Cartiers and their team put into No Limits, it’s no wonder this place exudes a feeling of warmth and hospitality. That might why they have such a dedicated work staff, and many others hoping to be employed there one day.

Since opening the cafe in 2019, new ideas and community outreach endeavors have inevitably followed. In response to the local issue of food insecurity aggravated by Covid-19, No Limits now prepares hundreds of meals a week for those in need. Initiated by a $30,000 donation from Marcus Lemonis’ Lemon-Aid Foundation, the “Help for Hunger” program allowed the cafe to keep their staff working while feeding the local food insecure community. This donation helped bridge the gap and mitigate the setback they suffered during the pandemic closure, but also brought them closer to the community they serve. Being able to help others in the community brought new purpose and function to the whole No Limits operation. It is a wonderful example of community helping community, coming full circle during a time of crisis. No Limits is also hoping to start a training academy soon, a community liaison of sorts, to train workers that would then be ready to work at other restaurants or businesses looking for skilled help. They want to showcase and share the amazing abilities of the intellectually disabled with others; to prove that there is a whole sector of workers who are putting their best foot forward and “getting it done.”

Working at No Limits Cafe is much more than just a job for the employees; it is a chance at independence and self-confidence. The staff is well-trained and treated as any other restaurant staff, with specific checks and protocol to guarantee best-practice standards, and employees are expected to adhere to these guidelines. Subsequently, they develop essential life skills and the value of responsibility to foster a sense of independence and self-worth. There is room for growth and leadership here, as the cafe promotes from within. As Stephanie notes, “The transformation in our workers is amazing. Some are unsure at first but may turn out to be the best employee we’ve ever had. The feedback we receive from the families could make me cry.”

No Limits Cafe breaks down barriers and builds up hope for families and individuals who previously felt doubt and uncertainty. The entire staff spends every day living up to their mission to “EMPOWER adults with intellectual disabilities by providing jobs and job training to help them lead fulfilling lives within our community and to increase awareness of their potential.” Consider stopping in to enjoy a fabulous lunch, like a Chicken Chimichurri Bowl, or a Build-Your-Own Grilled Cheese. While you are admiring the modern yet rustic decor and savoring your yummy salad or sandwich with a side of creamy tomato soup, be sure to soak in the inspirational environment, because as they say at No Limits, “Eat well, do good.”

No Limits Cafe is located at 418 NJ 35 S in Red Bank and is open for lunch daily 11:00 am-3:00 pm. They are hosting their annual Golf Outing on Monday, June 14th. To view the menu, volunteer, donate, or any other information on the cafe, please visit their website, No Limits Cafe.