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Beyond the Plate: Hugs Café Inc.

Beyond the Plate: Hugs Café Inc.

Hugs Café Creates Meaningful Opportunities for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Differences With Support From North Texas Giving Day

Hugs Café Inc. empowers adults with intellectual and developmental differences by providing meaningful job opportunities and skill-building programs. Through their support from North Texas Giving Day and Communities Foundation of Texas, they not only serve delicious meals but also promote inclusivity and empowerment within their community.


“People love our turkey sandwiches, but we’re about so much more than the sandwich!” says Lauren Smith, executive director of Hugs Café Inc. in McKinney, Texas.

Hugs Café Inc. provides opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental differences through four programs: Hugs CaféHugs GreenhouseHugs Training Academy, and Hugs Home Cooking. These programs offer meaningful training that teach valuable skills, include competitively paid employment, and provide ability-conscious career pathways. Since launching in 2012, Hugs’ relationship with Communities Foundation of Texas has evolved.

“We’ve long seen CFT as a really great community leader in philanthropy. Not only do we consider CFT a partner and mentor of sorts, but also an advocate for the work that we do,” shared Smith.

After being awarded a grant from CFT’s North Texas Cares initiative in 2020, Hugs was able to hire new employees and provide them with necessary training. At Hugs Café, positions range from servers and cashiers to sandwich line attendants, dishwashers, hosts, and more.

53589594253_ad22254384_k-(2).jpgCierra, a greeter, enjoys her job.

“My job is important to me because I like being productive, and I like what I do!” she says. The community has taken notice of the smiling faces and tasty food, but most importantly, the organization’s important mission and unique business model. Lauri Summers and her daughter, Amy, recently enjoyed lunch on a sunny afternoon.

“I have a special needs grandson who will be fifteen in May, and I thought maybe someday he could get into the [Hugs] Academy,” Summers said. Her daughter, Amy, who runs a special needs ministry at her church, had heard about Hugs.

“I wanted to come and check it out to recommend it to the families we serve. This community has a special place in my heart, and I want to support them and what this community is doing to bring purpose to these adults’ lives,” she said.

Hugs Café’s fans include international visitors and local residents such as McKinney Mayor George Fuller.

As Mayor of McKinney, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of Hugs Café. Its commitment to inclusion and empowerment not only fills stomachs, but also warms hearts, uniting our community in compassion and purpose.

- McKinney Mayor George Fuller

Since 2015, Hugs Café has relied on annual donations through CFT’s North Texas Giving Day website to cover the financial gaps between being a sustainable business and operating at a fiscal loss.

“Last year, it cost us $400,000 to operate the Hugs Café program. For that $400,000, we gave out over $125,000 in mission-based wages. But at the end of the day, we still lost $40,000 to be able to make that possible. So, about half of what we are able to raise through North Texas Giving Day helps cover those needs,” Smith says.

Smith credits North Texas Giving Day for Hugs’s significant growth in visitors and monetary donations – more and more customers happily become donors and vice versa.

“It is a place where you may arrive having had a bad day, but you will leave with a hug, a smile, and a welcoming sense of acceptance,” says Smith.

With friendly staff, repeat customers, and a bustling lunch scene, many newcomers look forward to returning.

“I work at Garland ISD with special needs [kids], and I’ve been wanting to come here, so I brought my sister. Everything I experienced was touching, the food was delicious, but probably my favorite part was the prayer. It brought me to tears,” shared first-time customer Dianna Bright.

Looking ahead, Smith envisions expanding Hugs Café’s impact beyond McKinney and, hopefully, even Texas.

“Our goal is to train and job-place as many adults with differences in culinary and hospitality jobs as possible,” says Smith. “We want to replicate the Hugs effect all across the country.”


Alan H. Rose
Alan H. Rose
Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications

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