WINCHESTER — A lot of hearts were broken on Sept. 30 when Firefly Cafe went out of business. Foodies lost a beloved lunch spot, and the clients and staff of NW Works Inc. lost a prime employment and job-training center for adults with developmental issues.
The good news is a new restaurant, Pho Bistro Winchester, opened Feb. 4 in Firefly's former location at 3035 Valley Ave., in the Creekside Station shopping center.
The better news is its owners have picked up Firefly's torch and given jobs to many of the NW Works clients who used to work there.
One of those is David, a man in his 40s who thrives on routine, repetition and a job well done. When Firefly Cafe closed last year, he found himself stuck at home with little to do.
"You can't have routine in a quarantine," said Ellie Williams Tahmaseb, marketing and public relations coordinator for NW Works at 3085 Shawnee Drive.
About two months ago, David was presented with the opportunity to return to his former job site, only this time he would be working for Pho Bistro rather than Firefly. It didn't take him any time at all to adjust, and he now proudly proclaims, "I run this place."
There's no doubt that David has quickly become critical to Pho Bistro's operations. During the brief 10 minutes he sat down on Monday to talk about working at the new restaurant, he was called away twice because his assistance was urgently needed by coworkers.
Pho Bistro serves Vietnamese and Mediterranean dishes every Monday through Saturday. In the restaurant's first few weeks, General Manager Maria Anderson said some customers walked in expecting to find Firefly, not knowing the previous establishment operated by NW Works had been forced to close several months earlier after the COVID-19 pandemic caused business to decrease.
"It was beloved," Anderson said of Firefly Cafe. "I didn't know how close-knit the people who came here were."
After seeing the public's passion for Firefly, Anderson decided to contact NW Works to see if any of its clients would be interested in coming back and helping out at Pho Bistro.
Tahmaseb said she was thrilled to get the call.
"As a new restaurant in the area, they could have said, 'We're not Firefly. Leave us alone, we're our own restaurant,'" Tahmaseb said. "But instead they said, 'How can we recreate that [partnership with NW Works] and give back to the community while still maintaining our own brand?'"
Anderson's timing couldn't have been better. Pho Bistro was short-staffed and needed employees, and NW Works, a nonprofit that provides jobs and skill training for adults with disabilities, needed more employers to hire its clients.
Anderson said she was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the former Firefly employees acclimated to the new restaurant. She cited David as an example of the high-quality help provided to her and other area employers by NW Works.
"He's a rock star," Anderson said. "He gets the kitchen all clean, he's doing the dishes, he comes out and buses the tables — it's like he never skipped a beat."
Howard Felpstein, a program manager at NW Works, said the nonprofit never throws its clients into an employment situation without proper support. Every individual hired from NW Works comes complete with a job coach paid by the nonprofit who reports to work with them and assists with training, skills improvement, time management, employer/employee communications and so on.
"We don't have to pay any extra attention at all [to the NW Works clients] because the job coaches take care of it," Anderson said.
"What we're looking for, as with any job, is an appropriate fit that's good for the employer and good for the employee," Felpstein said.
David has been a phenomenal fit. He works at Pho Bistro from noon to 4 p.m. five days a week, smiling practically nonstop as he helps out in the kitchen and keeps the dining area clean for customers.
Felpstein said NW Works has lots of clients just like David who are eager to find jobs in the community.
"NW Works is a tremendous resource for any business," Felpstein said. "We have clients we can help learn almost any kind of occupation, and not just entry-level. Employers should give us a call. We're ready to work with you."
To learn more about NW Works, call 540-313-9400 or visit nwworks.com.
Additional information about Pho Bistro Winchester and its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are available at phobistrowinchester.com.