A qualified chef who was forced to quit his dream role after losing his vision to cancer has created an inclusive cafe designed to make dining out easier for people with disabilities.
Craig Shanahan will officially open the doors to The Blind Chef Cafe on High Street in Penrith, in Sydney’s west, on Monday.
Every element of the venue, from the texture of the walls and tabletops to the colour of the floor and cutlery, was carefully curated to optimise a disabled customer’s experience and based on what Mr Shanahan has found to be lacking at other venues.
There are no stairs and there is plenty of room for guide dogs or wheelchairs to scoot around – and the mindful design will also make the cafe a prime location for young families with prams or elderly people with walking frames, Mr Shanahan said.
The 29-year-old has been dreaming of opening the cafe and dessert bar for six years, since he was forced to quit his job as a chef when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Craig Shanahan will officially open the doors to The Blind Chef Cafe on High Street in Penrith, in Sydney’s west, on Monday
Mr Shanahan lost his left eye when he was five but lived a relatively normal life afterwards, playing baseball and eventually starting a chef apprenticeship
Then 23, Mr Shanahan started getting regular dizzy spells, headaches and couldn’t stop vomiting.
A doctor confirmed his worst fears when testing revealed a tumour the size of a mango in his brain. It was the second time he’d been diagnosed with cancer.
‘It was basically life or death,’ he said of the subsequent surgery.
Surgeons succeeded in removing the tumour, but his optic nerve was damaged in the process and Mr Shanahan awoke to learn he was legally blind.
Decades earlier when Mr Shanahan was just two, he was first diagnosed with a tumour behind his left eye.
His medical team spent years trying to cure him before making the decision to remove his entire eye when he was five.
But he still had vision in the right eye up until his second run in with cancer and lived a ‘relatively normal life’ up until the last diagnosis.
Mr Shanahan left school in grade 10 with dreams of becoming a chef.
He enrolled in TAFE where he started a certificate two and apprenticeship to work his way through the ranks at venues like the Bella Vista Hotel and The Morrison in Sydney’s CBD.
Mr Shanahan, with his guide dog Rocko at his side, has spent the last two years meticulously planning every detail of The Blind Chef Cafe
Everything from the textures of the tabletops to the colour of the flooring and cutlery was an educated decision made to best serve members of the disabled community
The chairs and furniture were selected in a dark colour palette, though he understands every person’s vision is different so has included bright, light cutlery and decorations to help steer people who might be able to see those colours better
But becoming legally blind stopped his career dead in its tracks.
Due to his condition, it would be considered legally unsafe for him to work full time in a kitchen, and he was forced to leave his dream job behind.
‘It was devastating,’ he said.
‘My whole life has been cooking. I’m a foodie and I’ve always dreamed of being a chef so to lose that was hard.’
He spent the next year recovering in bed before he was able to learn to walk using a cane and eventually paired with his guide dog, Rocko.
‘He’s my best mate,’ Mr Shanahan said.
‘He just changed my life.’
Mr Shanahan, with Rocko at his side, has spent the last two years meticulously planning every detail of The Blind Chef Cafe.
He considers his guide dog, Rocko, his best mate and credits Rocko for helping him through his first few years legally blind
Due to his condition, it would be considered legally unsafe for him to work full time in a kitchen, and he was forced to leave his dream job behind
Mr Shanahan was blind in one eye but went about his life unfazed until he lost his vision entirely aged 23
He explained that the design was an educated decision made to best serve members of the disabled community.
‘The space between tables is wide enough for guide dogs and wheelchairs and walking frames,’ he said. ‘There’s a clear path wherever you need to go.’
Mr Shanahan’s condition allows him to still see silhouettes and shape outlines if he strains himself.
He describes it as ‘being able to see when [he] knows what [he’s] looking for’.
With that in mind, the chairs and furniture were selected in a dark colour palette, though he understands every person’s vision is different so has included bright, light cutlery and decorations to help steer people who might be able to see those colours better.
‘Textures and colours were really important,’ he said. ‘I spent a lot of time trying to get those right.’
Surgeons succeeded in removing the tumour, but his optic nerve was damaged in the process and Mr Shanahan awoke to learn he was legally blind
Mr Shanahan (pictured with two friends) is certain his business will be ‘just what Penrith needs’
Pictured: Mr Shanahan as a baby
Mr Shanahan is quietly confident that his cafe will be just what Penrith needs and a huge hit among locals.
‘Without being too confident, I think it’ll be great for the community. The way that I think is I either sit at home and do nothing with my situation or I go all out. It’s very scary, but it’s worth it.’
Mr Shanahan knows he has a lot to lose with the venture – his home is the guarantor for the loan – but the support his local community has already shown is uplifting.
On Thursday’s soft open, they had about 60 customers come through the doors before 3pm. They’re expecting even more on Monday’s official launch.
While the cafe was designed with blind people or those in wheelchairs in mind, an added bonus for Mr Shanahan is that it has become accessible to people with wide ranging issues.
‘The elderly, young kids, families with prams,’ Mr Shanahan explained.
‘It really suits everyone.’
Mr Shanahan is proud of the entire menu, but thinks the prawn linguine will be a big hit straight out of the gates.
For breakfast, the pancake stack and granola bowl with coffee panacotta are the 29-year-old’s favourites.
Mr Shanahan (pictured with his neices) said he was motivated to continue with his dream in any way he could after becoming blind