The Blue Bears Special Meals Restaurant Opens in the Princeton Shopping Center
TEAM WORK: “All our dishes are made from scratch, hand-done, and are fresh every day. Each day, we offer a different menu — simple, nourishing, and well-balanced.” The team at the new The Blue Bears Special Meals restaurant is pictured from left: Chef Anne-Renee Rice-Soumeillant, Michael O’Brien, Chef Eric Wimmer, Megan Cloyes, and Emmanuel Yver.
By Jean Stratton
A memorable dining experience awaits visitors to the new The Blue Bears Special Meals restaurant in the Princeton Shopping Center.
Just opened in mid-May, it is already attracting enthusiastic diners for breakfast, lunch, and takeout.
Not only does it offer an intriguing menu — often with an international flavor — but its underlying concept of encouraging and enabling young adults facing intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to find opportunities for learning and meaningful work sets it apart as a unique dining establishment.
Founders Eric (president and chef) and Marie (vice president, outreach) Wimmer and Antoine (chairman) and Gaud (vice president) Yver wanted to start a new business that would be significant in a number of ways. They decided on a nonprofit restaurant, explains Eric Wimmer.
“We were all looking for something meaningful to do,” says Wimmer. Antoine’s oldest son Emmanuel, a young man with Down syndrome, is now 21 and out of school. We wanted to find something he could do and be involved in that would give him a good opportunity. Then we thought, ‘Why don’t we do what we always loved, something to do with cooking?’ We are family cooks, who have always loved it.”
Originally from France, the Wimmers and Yvers have lived in the U.S. for many years, but a special French flair pervades the restaurant — from the decor to many of the dishes, including the traditional croissants and famous madeleine cookies.
The charming setting features vibrant color combinations, banquette bench seating as well as individual tables, an open kitchen, and, displayed above, assorted pottery, bowls, and plates from Provence.
The decor was the creation of Marie Wimmer and Celine Guillemot, reports Eric Wimmer. “Marie conceived the idea, and Celine, who is our point-of-sale host and upholsterer, put it together.” Its inviting ambiance is definitely a conversation piece among customers.
The origin of the restaurant’s name is an interesting story, adds Marie Wimmer. “We wanted something to have meaning for what we are trying to accomplish. The bear has a powerful image, but it also is not always agile. However, it always has a friendly image, of course, with the idea of the teddy bear. We thought of blue because of our planet since it is known as the ‘blue planet.’”
Gathering the staff focused on offering young adults with IDD (often with Down syndrome) a chance to find enjoyable and productive work. As The Blue Bears’ mission statement explains, its goal is to “create the conditions allowing persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be identified as productive and respected members of society at large.”
This would be accomplished by “offering them a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through work and customer-facing services earning them a living.”
In addition, the goal is to “train the ‘bears’ to become cooks and food-quality lovers, allowing them professional development in our organization of elsewhere.”
The Blue Bears also wants to “increase the public’s awareness of their capabilities and offer the Princeton community a new style of freshly-balanced meals and services that will help their ‘joie de vivre’ and health.”
At the restaurant, under the guidance of Chef Wimmer and Chef Anne-Renee Rice-Soumeillant, the young employees are taught to “run the operation of a custom-ordered meal preparation and delivery service serving the community in which it operates.”
“We have five young adults with IDD on our staff,” says Eric Wimmer, “and this is a learning process for them. They each have a private job coach who is with them during the learning process. We carefully define the job for them.”
Various tasks include kitchen work for the prep section, such as peeling and cutting, he continues. “In the packaging section, they will put the food on the plates or into a package for takeout. They can also serve the dishes at the tables. Our procedure is for customers to self-order, and then we bring their order to the table.
“In addition, there are general duties, such as cleaning, putting things away, and such. Emmanuel works with us in the kitchen, including the prep work, even rolling dough, and he is learning to do more. Recently, he helped make a pie.”
The cuisine at the restaurant is varied and intriguing with an international touch. Choices include a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and quiches. Entrees offer one dish “from the sea,” one “from the land,” and one vegetarian option.
“We have two types of breakfasts,” points out Eric Wimmer. “One is French-style with a baguette, or croissant, pain au chocolate, and cafe au lait. The other is American-style, featuring bacon and eggs, or pancakes, or our steel cut oatmeal, and coffee or tea. Our coffee is Lavazza, very special from Italy, and our tea is from Le Palais de Thés.” Other beverages include Perrier and assorted sparkling water.
The cuisine reflects the travel experiences and wide range of culinary knowledge of the founders, adds Wimmer. “We have traveled the world and have experienced many different cuisines. We have everything here — dishes can be French, Italian, American, Lebanese, or Greek. Every day, we offer a different menu.
“I think in some ways, the customers are surprised by us and what they find here, the variety. It can be hard to define us. For example, we are not a bakery, but we bake. Pies, tarts, international cookies, such as madeleines, and more.”
A recent sample menu included Spanish gazpacho or Asian chicken shrimp soups; Salad Poivrons with roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and basil; or chickpeas with cumin, paprika, onion, and olive oil. A special lunch salad included avocado, mango, and chicken on mixed greens.
Sandwiches made with fresh baguettes featured nitrate-free smoked ham with Gruyere cheese; nitrate-free turkey with cheddar cheese; and sliced tomato, mozzarella, lettuce, and pesto.
Another sandwich choice was a vegetarian wrap with eggplant caviar, carrots, cucumber, and egg. A “land” wrap offered sliced chicken, julienne vegetables, and vinaigrette.
The Quiche Lorraine was the special quiche of the day, served with a green salad. Another choice featured mushrooms.
Entrees “from the land” included Moroccan Couscous Maison with chicken and beef meatballs and vegetables served over couscous with onions and raisin compote; and “from the sea” featured Poached Hake with carrots, zucchini, and aioli maison.
No meal at The Blue Bears is complete without one of the restaurant’s mouthwatering desserts. Choices included raspberry Bavarois and lemon pound cake, and cookies of the day: madeleines, chocolate chip, roicos, and almond croquets.
Examples of the daily choices are featured in a display case for customers’ convenience.
The variety of quiches are very popular with patrons, reports Marie Wimmer, and they also especially like the baguettes, and the international cookies.
Prices range from $3 for two cookies and $4 for soup to $6.50 for sandwiches and wraps, $8 for quiches, and $10/$12 for larger entrees.
Customers are delighted with this new restaurant, and word of mouth is quickly creating an enthusiastic clientele. As a first-time visitor to The Blue Bears noted, “The food here is high quality and delicious. You can be sure I’ll be back!”
Indeed, there are regulars already, and the Wimmers are very encouraged with the response. “People are coming and enjoying themselves here every day. They have been very supportive. We have a great location in the Shopping Center, with such convenient parking. And now in the nice weather, we also have tables outside. We can accommodate 40 customers with inside and outside seating.
“I am really enjoying the work,” continues Eric Wimmer, “and I like meeting all the different people who come in. It is also a wonderful experience working with the IDD staff. This is really a gift, and I believe we are accomplishing something important.”
The Blue Bears Special Meals is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Takeout orders can be picked up until 5 p.m. (609) 915-1119. Website: www.bluebears.org.