Cafe 54: Mental Health Awareness


Natalya Larez, Cougar Tales Editor

Located in Downtown Tucson, 54 E Pennington St, Tucson, AZ, 85701, Cafe 54 is a mental health-based establishment, offering jobs to people who may struggle with mental health or physical disabilities.

Table numbers given to guests after ordering include a story of a famous person or celebrity who struggles with mental health issues. Those who work in the cafe have a shirt with the company motto, “Fresh Food, Fresh Start.” This cafe serves as a training program for anyone who suffers from developmental disabilities or mental health issues.

Each person who works at the cafe is referred by a psychologist, psychiatrist, case manager, or another mental health advocate. All of the trainees are given the skills to become dishwashers, servers, and even cooks in the workforce. Employment is different for everyone and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (depending on the person’s individual needs).

“We believe that recovery is possible for anybody, and oftentimes that’s best achieved… through community involvement and through employment,” said Jeff Grobe, the executive director of Coyote Taskforce. This organization originally opened this cafe in 2004 and has since helped hundreds of people. “We’re trying to break through the stigma of mental illness. Every single meal that we serve is an opportunity for someone in the Tucson community, or outside of that, to recognize that mental illness is not the barrier that it used to be, and it doesn’t have to be a barrier at all.”

1 in 5, or about 11,000,000, Americans struggle with mental health, and 90% are unemployed. However, studies show most of these individuals are actively looking for employment and would prioritize work over anything else. In Arizona alone, 2,862,704 people are struggling every day, yet only 2/3 of them get the proper assistance they need.

“Somebody gets that job, and you can see their face light up.  They get their first paycheck, and they call us about it. … It’s just an amazing feeling because that person’s life has significantly improved at that moment.”