TARC eatery serves door to opportunity

Donald and Frances Tivet of Chauvin are regular patrons at the Terrebonne ARC – formerly the Terrebonne Association for Retarded Citizens – Restaurant and Gift Shop on Grand Caillou Road in Houma. “Their shrimp poboys are awesome,” Donald said as he stood at the cashier and paid less than $20 for two complete meals.

The Tivets are among a customer base that makes this eatery a traditional gathering place, and benefit from helping developmentally-challenged workers build productive lives.

“I love it,” 30-year-old server and TARC client Misty Farkas said of working at the restaurant. “I really don’t want to work anywhere else.”

The TARC Restaurant and Gift Shop marks its 31st anniversary this year, as TARC itself celebrates its 50th anniversary of serving the needs of the developmentally challenged. TARC offers a specialized force of more than 200 people, working under the guidance of approximately 200 staff members, a way of contributing to society.

“They call this restaurant the windows to our community,” said TARC Marketing and Business Development Director Erica Null. “This is where the public gets to come in and see some of the products that TARC makes.” The gift shop, incorporated as part of the restaurant, displays its pottery, works of art and garden decorations. It is just a sampling of what TARC clients do.

The history of TARC dates back to the 1950s when Jeffery and Nellie Guidry recognized the inhumane ways individuals with mental and developmental disabilities were treated by society.

By personally campaigning for financial support, the Guidrys opened the first class in Louisiana for children with mental and developmental challenges, which became the Wonderland Day Care Center on Goode Street in Houma.

In 1962, approximately $5,000 was raised by parents and teachers involved with the center, an association formed and the Terrebonne Association for Retarded Citizens was established as a non-profit Louisiana corporation. TARC officially became associated with the Association for Retarded Citizens in 1967.

In 1968, the Terrebonne Parish Council authorized funding TARC through a millage tax. TARC acquired the millage from the parish to administer to the health and educational requirement of individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in Terrebonne Parish.

In 1972, TARC obtained the closed Houma Air Force Radar site on McCord Road and transformed it to a 20-acre campus.

By 1975, a Louisiana residential care license was approved, and a grant application was made to the Department of Health Education and Welfare as TARC built its first sheltered workshop and a cafeteria.

In 1982, a playground and Music Hall/Chapel was constructed as well the TARC Restaurant. In 1986 an Independent Apartment Living Program began.

While building its history, TARC became a leading ARC in the nation with innovative job opportunities and services that include pre-vocational training, vocational training, health services, residential services, therapies and transportation.

The growth of TARC is attributed to its involvement with cutting-edge social enterprises that create meaningful work for clients.

Null explained that the selection of TARC businesses came by examining needs of the community and determining where clients of this organization might fill a void.

Supplies for many of the business projects, such as T-shirts that are recycles as rag bags, came by public donations. “Our sheds are filled every day and people are always dropping things off for our use,” Null said.

Additional TARC businesses include the Bon Appetit Cafeteria and Cajun Confections bakery and gourmet candies. Bon Terre Enterprises produces a variety of salsas, and the Hen House is a commercial egg producing operation.

Lagniappe Cleaning Co. performs office janitorial services while Bayou Beads sorts and packages second-hand throws for Mardi Gras.

Houma Grown is a wholesale nursery and public farmer’s market. Bayouland Land Krewe lawn care is contracted by area businesses, and La Maison d’art produces functional, artistic items for the home.

The Cedar Chest Boutique is a thrift store operated off the TARC campus.

Grand Designs screen printing makes personalized products with company or organizational logos on shirts and other items.

The Cajun Crate Co. manufactures wooden storage containers for oil field tools and industrial pallets, while Bayou Packers are the people that package plastic eating utensils and other small job-related instruments in plastic sleeves.

The Sunshine Express is a center for people unable to work because of their conditions, but want to do as much as they can by learning life skills.

“We create businesses specifically for our people and their skills,“ Null said. “The restaurant offers a business for people that want to work with the public. They learn to wait on customers and bus tables.”

Many clients advance to levels where they are able to get jobs outside the TARC jobs system and along the lines of their training. Some, like Farkas who has worked at the restaurant five years, are content to remain where they are.

“Because of budget cuts the last few years, we’ve had to work at creating successful businesses and products that people want to buy,” Null said. “Our executive director [Mary Lynn Bisland] does not want our people making macaroni necklaces. She wants them to make viable products that people will be interested in having.”

TARC operates on a $9 million budget and each of its businesses is profitable.

Null contends that customer service separates the TARC Restaurant from chain restaurants. “We are locally owned. We bring personality to the table, which is part of our culture and people. Customers know they are eating a quality lunch and breakfast.”

Null said the general public is always amazed to sees what TARC does. “We don’t focus on disability here,” she said. “We focus on ability and every day we are seeing more people make it through with learning skills. They do a great job and put all their effort into it. You don’t see that at a normal workplace.”

Connie Harris is a 21-year TARC staff member and fry cook in the restaurant. She enjoys working with the challenged crew and watching them grow. “They do a complete job,” she said.

TARC participants must be 21 years old to get into the skills training and job placement programs. Patrons of TARC businesses voice support for this program.

“We’ve been coming here a few years and really enjoy it,” Veral Hutchinson said as she and her husband, Eldon, dined on gumbo. “It’s clean; they’re friendly, they’re good people.”

TARC Restaurant and Gift Shop client and server Misty Frakas takes an order from regular customers Veral and Eldon Hutchinson.