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Hip cafe opening in Gadsden Public Library

February 6, 2017 GMT

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — There is a special kind of coolness to Beautiful Rainbow, the new cafÃ(copyright) opening at Gadsden Public Library in a few weeks.

The space is enormous, with 12 tables and seats for 50 patrons, spread out behind big glass walls that look into the library. On the opposite wall are massive watercolor paintings of cupcakes, tomato plants and farm fields, painted by the students of Litchfield Middle School’s special needs program and blown up to larger-than-life by the folks at Kelly Signs in Gadsden.

That hip, modern vibe extends from the decor to the menu: a vegetarian blend of meals, salads and desserts topped off with orange blossom water and coffee from Hokes Bluff native Sarah Barnett Gill’s “Mama Mocha” coffee shops.

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Chip Rowan, special needs instructor at Litchfield Middle and head of the Beautiful Rainbow program, believes that it’ll take one plate of vegetarian lasagna for meat-eaters to get past their fear of the “V″ word.

“People talk about, ‘What do you mean, you’re not serving meat?’ but if they have that dish they’re not going to miss the meat,” said Rowan. “It’s complex, filling, delicious food.”

The recipes all come from Rowan’s personal cookbook. Other entrees include pimento cheese quesadillas with guacamole and salsa, chickpea sliders - chickpeas, avocado and tahini mix on a bun, like a burger - and salads made from produce grown in the Beautiful Rainbow gardens at Litchfield and another across the street from the library.

Rowan said that the produce selection will be bolstered by a partnership with Owls Hollow Farm in Gadsden, where he hopes students will one day train to grow produce in greenhouses.

The program is about more than food for its 12 participants. Two of the Beautiful Rainbow team members are adults, but the others are still in high school, and some are preparing to graduate in May. Without the credits provided by the co-op program those students would receive “certificates of attendance” at graduation. Instead, they’ll have full diplomas, which makes a major difference to their hiring prospects after school.

Several of Beautiful Rainbow’s recruits want to be chefs and cooks when they’re out of school. Student David Hodges said he likes to cook at home with his dad, and the program has taught him how to make anything from homemade marshmallows to pizza on his own.

“I think it’s going to change me into a good chef,” said Hodges, who will serve as head cashier, operating the point-of-sale system for the cafÃ(copyright).

Sonya Null is one of the newest additions to Beautiful Rainbow, having been with the co-op program for about a month. She said that she’s already seeing benefits from learning food prep safety guidelines with the team, like cutting away from her body while chopping vegetables. It’s exciting for Null, who said cooking is one of her favorite things to do.

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“It’s been my dream to work in a restaurant,” said Null.

That dream will come true once Beautiful Rainbow officially opens, which Rowan said should only be a few weeks out, after a series of invite-only soft launches to acclimate the students to working with customers.

Students in the program mostly see the same faces every day - teachers, classmates and caregivers - and they have limited chances to interact with people outside their social circle. The soft launches will help, but Rowan also has them role-playing situations to prepare for typical, on-the-job situations, like taking money, handing out food and dealing with the occasional abstract problem, like an angry customer whose problem may not be fixable.

Beautiful Rainbow’s staff aren’t worried about that, though; they’re ready to get started.

“I’m not just excited,” said student Matthew Ford. “I’m totally excited!”

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com