October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the American Association for Persons with Disabilities (AAPD) celebrates it by sponsoring Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) in communities in every state and internationally. DMD exists to pair disabled students and job seekers with relevant employers who can help them develop their skills.
DMD began in the White House in 1999, with just 36 students taking part. But today, DMD is now a national event, with thousands of employers, students, and potential employees, participating in the unique and enriching experience — one that mentor and mentee benefit from equally, in different ways. I myself am a good example of that, being that I’m a member of the disabled community (I have cerebral palsy), and I owe thanks to The Richmond County Daily Journal for being my mentor on this special occasion, thus enabling me to write this special article. And, it is with this in mind that I interviewed Henry J. Antos III, chef and owner of Henry’s Uptown Café in downtown Rockingham.
When I first went into Henry’s, I was pleasantly surprised at how inviting it seemed; rather like a family kitchen. Its wooden floors and walls adorned with pictures of some of its most appetizing dishes gives the café a refreshingly old-fashioned feel. And its big, bright windows add to its already open and friendly atmosphere. So, it was fitting that before even walking through the door, I was welcomed in by Mr. Antos, who introduced himself simply as “Henry” and greeted me with a handshake and a smile.
To start off, Henry told me that he had been working and managing as owner of the café for about three years. When asked what brought him to Richmond County and what inspired him to be part of the restaurant business, he replied that his love of cooking has always seemed to be a gift from God — one that he did not want to take for granted. And he certainly hasn’t, as evidenced by the café’s growing menu.
“We serve all different kinds of food here,” said Antos. “There’s a lot of different specials I make. Every day, there’s roughly a different special. We do steaks at night, and some fish dishes.”
Because his menu is gaining steady popularity, he meets several different kinds of people each day. But, he’s used to it, having memories of working with diverse groups of people, such as those from Vocational Rehabilitation, as early as 1991. However, he admits that it’s hard to describe those experiences in great detail, because he naturally tends to see more similarities in people than differences. “They’re just like anybody else,” he said, referring to the disabled (or differently-abled) community. “You’re a person, I’m a person,” he said.
Adding to his history with Vocational Rehabilitation, Antos explained that he has had a VR client working for his café for about 2 ½ years. He said that this person has done such a fine job handling the dishes and busing tables that he would definitely hire from Vocational Rehabilitation again — and possibly more times in the future, because a job well done is what really stands out to him.
Antos also said that steps taken towards inclusiveness and accessibility are of paramount importance to someone in his profession. “As someone who runs a restaurant, and someone who hires people, you want all people to come, so you make it as easy for someone to come and go and eat (as you can). Because that’s what I do. That’s what it’s all about. And we do have a ramp — it’s steep, but we have one,” he said.
Antos said that hungry travelers to his Café have been from many places, including Canada and Washington state, just to name a couple. He also informed me that he will be doing some redecorating, little by little, over time until his vision is complete. And, part of his vision is the food menu, which he said may include a few new culinary surprises in the near future.
In the meantime, he hopes that everyone will drop by and enjoy what’s offered now. Everything is made to order and thus promises to be fresh and flavorful. Furthermore, in regard to anyone who may like to apply for a job there in the future, he added, “It’s an open door!”
Henry’s Uptown Café is located on 118 S. Hancock St., Rockingham.
— Harrison is a freelance writer living in Morven, N.C.