September 7, 2022

The Blue Bears to Keep Up Quality, Service, During Staff Transition

By Wendy Greenberg

Although Chef Eric Wimmer’s personal touch is evident at The Blue Bears Special Meals in the Princeton Shopping Center, he feels he is leaving it in good hands as he and his wife depart for France.

To help the staff transition, the bistro is closed this week and will reopen on Tuesday, September 13.

The Blue Bears is known for its international food like quiches, baguettes, croissants, and French and Mediterranean-inspired entrees — one from the sea, one from land, and one vegetarian.

It is also known for hiring staff with disabilities. Its mission states: “The Blue Bears is dedicated to providing meaningful employment and a place of dignity to work for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, by preparing fresh and balanced meals every day.”

Antoine and Gaud Yver, parents of two of the staff members, will take the reins from Wimmer and continue to run the bistro following his model. They are two of the four-person founding team.

“Nothing will change,” said Wimmer, as he and wife Marie, who also works at the café, re-establish their life in France. “We will have a tight link and daily contact,” he said. “And we will visit if necessary.”

The Yvers look forward to running The Blue Bears. “The plans are definitely to carry on as before, with minor adjustments to reflect the refreshed team-specific circumstances,” they wrote in an email, adding that the mission remains the same, as does the ability to serve the community.

“Having imagined and partnered with Eric and Marie Wimmer to create this nonprofit enterprise from its foundation, and actively participated to establishing, nurturing, and flourishing its unique mission of offering respectful and meaningful work opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, whilst serving unique community needs, we are fully committed to and very confident that the mission will carry on, and demonstrate its sustainability and resilience.”

Antoine Yver admitted it would be “hard to replace the Eric and Marie all-star duo.”

The Blue Bears was founded in May 2019, after the Wimmers and Yvers got together over dinner. The Yvers have 10 children, including two adult children with Down syndrome, and they discussed the poor prospects for employment in meaningful jobs for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

A 2021 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of those without.

The concept of the nonprofit eatery was born, and Wimmer’s recipes were taught to the crew. The open area in the physical layout puts the whole process on view, from food preparation, baking or cooking, and packaging food for carry-out customers.

During the pandemic, the café added curbside pickup and takeout, and has an outdoor seating area. Residents were concerned over the summer when The Blue Bears was closed for a short time due to COVID-19 challenges. Now reopened, the hours have been curbed to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Wimmer expects it to expand until 3 p.m. soon.

Wimmer is  a retired cosmetics industry executive, and has lived with his wife in Princeton for more than 25 years. He was very matter-of-fact explaining the turn to cooking: “Marie and I have always enjoyed cooking, finding new tastes and recipes, adventuring in flavors and textures we wanted to explore,” he said. “We also have spoken together forever of a little place of ours where we could welcome guests and offer dishes we like in a friendly atmosphere.

“When this project took shape I went to a culinary course to be sure to understand what it takes to cook every day for a diverse clientele. And then, we started….”

Wimmer’s love for The Blue Bears will remain. “We have felt we have received so much more than we have given, from customers,” he said. “This is an au revoir, not an adieu.”