PEABODY — Breaking Grounds, the Main Street coffee shop that’s already distinguished itself from its competitors, has added Treadwell’s soft serve ice cream to the menu.
On a recent weekday, Brett Gray served a dish of sweet, creamy vanilla in a cup to a customer who wanted it topped with M&Ms, sprinkles and pieces of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
The 22-year-old Veterans Memorial High School graduate is one of the cafe workers learning new skills.
The frosty treat couldn’t come at a better time. July’s heat wave set a record in Boston and soared past its previous monthly high from July 1983, according to weather.com. Boston racked up a dozen days of 90-degree-plus high temperatures last month, and the overnight lows were also oppressive.
The idea to serve ice cream came from Steven Rosenthal, a Marblehead resident and founder of West Shore LLC, a Boston real estate private equity company. Two years ago, he donated $1 million to Northeast Arc, the nonprofit owner of the cafe. The Danvers agency’s mission is to assist people with disabilities.
“I wanted to do something different, innovative, even disruptive, in a positive sense,” he said at the time. “The idea was to find a way to literally change lives one at a time.”
Gray, an Arc client, underwent more than three months of training in the coffee shop where he learned to make coffee, sandwiches and espresso drinks. Last month, he was taught to serve ice cream and clean the $8,000 machine.
“This job has meant I can learn all kinds of different things,” he said. “I’ve learned how to make yogurt, oatmeal, chicken salad, and last week I was trained to work the espresso machine. At first, it was kind of hard, then it got easier.”
City Councilor-at-Large Thomas Gould, owner of Treadwell’s ice cream and an Arc booster, conducted the training.
Breaking Grounds opened three years ago in the downtown. It’s an initiative of Northeast Arc, the charity founded in 1954 by parents of children with developmental disabilities who wanted them to be a full part of the community. Since then, programs have expanded to support people with a broader range of disabilities, including autism and physical disabilities. They serve 9,000 people in nearly 190 Bay State communities.
Arc signed a one-year lease with a three-year option to operate the shop at 67 Main St.
Tim Brown, the agency’s innovation and strategy director, said the cafe isn’t breaking even. But they have become a model for training and finding jobs for people facing challenges.
Arc CEO Jo Ann Simons said Gray had never used the machines before, and it was something he could learn in minutes, she said.
“It’s a new skill that will help him work at other places,” she said.
And that’s the whole point, Brown said.
“Our goal is 100 percent turnover,” he said. “Our mission is to move these newly-trained workers to other jobs in the community.”
And it’s working. Trainees have been employed at Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, Flatbread Pizza, Starbucks and the Daily Harvest Cafe.
Brown said the idea was inspired when he read a news story about the shortage of restaurant employees.
“We have lots of people who have an interest in restaurant work and customer service with no experience, and we have lots of business partners who are seeking entry-level employees,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”
Upon completing his training at Breaking Grounds, Gray will work with Arc’s job coaches to learn resume writing and interviewing skills.
Heather Eckman, 27, one of the original cafe employees, was trained at Project Search at Salem State University. The program, in collaboration with Northeast Arc, provides work readiness skills and internships at a host business with employment as the outcome.
Before she joined Breaking Grounds, Eckman worked at Chartwells, the school’s dining services provider.
“I’ve always had an interest in food, so this is perfect,” she said. “Making all the different coffee drinks is my favorite thing to do.”
Courtney Flaherty, 38, graduated from high school in 2002 and received services at NuPath, a Woburn nonprofit that shares a similar mission to Arc. Later, she graduated from Project Search.
“I love it what I’m doing at Breaking Grounds,” she said. “I love the atmosphere, the customers. I’m very talented and a very nice person for this kind of job. Whenever anyone comes into the ship, they say ‘Aren’t you Courtney?’ That’s great.”