After discovering the alarming rate of unemployment for people with disabilities, Kristina Ihme began her journey towards founding Happy Vibes Café, working to provide security and stability for her own daughters and others in the Townsville community.
Tell us about yourself and Happy Vibes Café.
I came to Townsville to study at JCU and work as a local environmental scientist and project manager. I’m also a mother to two incredible daughters, aged 9 and 11, both of whom have autism, presenting unique challenges and a lifelong need for support.
My journey toward creating Happy Vibes Café began when I discovered the alarming unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities in Australia. This statistic prompted deep concern about my daughters’ futures and their independence when I’m no longer here. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to work, and workplaces should reflect the communities we live in, which inspired the birth of Happy Vibes.
I wrote a business plan, took a course at CQ Uni and the Smart Precinct NQ called iActivate, and found two exceptional co-directors to help bring my vision to life. Ricky, from Towards Better, brought extensive experience in supporting individuals in finding work and businesses in employing people with disabilities. Helen, a remarkable lawyer, and fellow mother with an autistic daughter, added a unique dimension to our team.
Happy Vibes Café is situated in the picturesque Wadda Mooli Park Community Hub, right next to a playground and parklands. We currently employ six individuals with disabilities. Not only are they employed the same as anyone else, but we pay them award wages, and hired them because of what they brought to the team, not because of any incentives. As a result, our customer service is exceptional, marked by warmth and even better food and drinks created by the talented team. We intentionally do not rely on support workers or NDIS funding, demonstrating that an inclusive workforce is attainable for any workplace.
Operating as a Social Traders Certified Social Enterprise and non-profit, all our profits and efforts are reinvested in our employees and the community. Our menu features breakfast and lunch items using top-quality ingredients, catering to a range of dietary requirements. We even have a grab-and-go kids’ menu. Beyond serving great coffee and food, we offer event catering and have a mobile coffee cart to bring Happy Vibes to your gatherings. At Happy Vibes, we celebrate differences but also believe that disability or not, everyone has something to contribute and deserves meaningful and valuable work
What has been the most challenging aspect of starting/owning Happy Vibes Café?
Ensuring a consistent flow of customers during the week, particularly at Elliot Springs, is essential for the sustainability and success of Happy Vibes Café. We tackle this challenge through strategic marketing, community engagement, special events, catering services, loyalty programs, feedback and adaptation and collaboration.
Changing the mindset and perception of people with disabilities, which is a fundamental aspect of Happy Vibes Café’s mission. Our commitment to this transformative endeavour goes beyond serving coffee and food; it’s about reshaping societal attitudes and promoting inclusivity. We do this by leading by example, awareness and education, storytelling, collaboration, and having an Accessible Environment (our café is designed to be fully assessable for employees and customers).
On a more personal level, juggling various roles in life and dealing calmly and gracefully with this. Selfcare and filling my cup is so important, because if it’s not full I can’t give. I hope that the older I get, the better I get at this.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I am an optimist at heart, known for my open-mindedness and an insatiable love for adventure, nature, and the culinary world. You’ll often find me exploring the scenic trails of Castle Hill; in fact, I’ve done 155 walks up Castle Hill this year.
I have a few quirks: I don’t believe in owning an ironing board or a set of scales, and coriander is notably absent from my garden. On my deck, an elegant clawfoot bath offers a touch of luxury and tranquillity amidst the great outdoors, and I hope the neighbours don’t mind.
What is the best piece of career or business advice you have ever received?
Pursue work that ignites your passion and contributes positively to the world.
Approach others with the same respect and kindness you desire. When in doubt, assume everyone is giving their best, and authenticity will earn you appreciation from the right workplaces.
Going forward, what is next on the cards for Happy Vibes Café?
We are more than a business, we’re a lifeline and need to ensure our sustainability. We welcome you to visit our cafe, make use of our catering services, join us for events like “Inclusive Thursdays”, or reserve our mobile coffee cart.
What truly fuels our passion is the potential to measure the impact that Happy Vibes has on our employees, their livelihoods, families, and the broader community. Our mission is to reshape perspectives, one cup of coffee at a time, with Happy Vibes leading the way as a champion of inclusive employment in North Queensland.
We inspire other businesses to adopt the Happy Vibes model, creating more opportunities for inclusive employment, particularly for individuals with disabilities. We’re ready and willing to provide support and share valuable insights to advance this cause.
We envision establishing a plant nursery, growing, and selling native plants. If you happen to know of a suitable location near Elliot Springs, your input would be greatly appreciated. Together, we can sow the seeds of positive change and growth.
Main image – Kristina Ihme (right) at the opening of Happy Vibes Cafe.
Images Credits – All images supplied.