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Sep 11, 2009
Blind Café Owner Triumphs In Light of Challenges

In less than two years, Janice Foster, a Baton Rouge business owner who is legally blind, went from being a cafeteria worker to achieving more than $100,000 in gross sales at her restaurant Vittles Café, which is a Randolph-Sheppard food service facility.

Foster lost her sight more than nine years ago as a result of diabetes. She also underwent a successful kidney and pancreas transplant. Refusing to allow her vision loss and medical condition to keep her from a love of cooking, she took a job working in a cafeteria.

This full-service cafeteria located inside of the Louisiana Workforce Commission building in Baton Rouge was a Randolph-Sheppard facility managed by Herbert Reado, who is also blind. Five months into the job, Foster realized that she wanted more for herself and family. Reado encouraged Foster to utilize the services of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) the same way he did, so she could start her own business.

Foster took Reado's advice and completed the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program administered by LRS, an agency under the Department of Children & Family Services (DSS), which provides citizens who are blind with training and self-supports to own and operate a business.

"The Randolph-Sheppard program serves as a resource to Louisiana citizens who are visually impaired, like Janice Foster on their path to independence and entrepreneurship," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "Foster is a great example of determination and has overcome many challenges in her life to successfully accomplish what others dream of, doing what they enjoy while earning a salary."

In August, Foster celebrated the one-year anniversary of her restaurant, Vittle's. Since opening the restaurant, Foster's sales have surpassed LRS' benchmark of $25,000 in net sales for a Randolph-Sheppard vendor.

Vittles Café is located inside the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Baton Rouge.  The restaurant serves the building's 450 state employees. Foster employs at least one employee, who most of the time is a family member. The café is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Randolph-Sheppard vendors manage a wide variety of food-service operations, including cafeterias, coffee and snack shops, vending machine locations, highway rest area vending sites and retail facilities in federal, state and government buildings and military facilities. In Louisiana, there are currently 87 Randolph-Sheppard vending facilities that employ more than 400 employees and achieve more than 15.4 million in gross sales.

Since 1936, the Randolph-Sheppard Act has provided a means for tens of thousands of American citizens who are blind or visually impaired to earn a living, competing as both employees and entrepreneurs in a field that otherwise would be virtually inaccessible to them.

Eligibility for the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program is based upon an individual with a significant visual disability qualifying for vocational rehabilitation services. For more information or to apply for services, contact LRS Executive Director for Blind Services, Kevin Monk at 225-219-2943 or kmonk@dss.state.la.us.


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