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Couple opens Squamish café in their late son's name, employing differently-abled staff

Joe's Table Café opening at Quest University Sept. 16.

"Hi, how are you? My name is Joe. What is your name?"

That’s how affable late Joseph Chung greeted everyone, his arm outstretched for a handshake, says his father, Peter Chung. 

Joseph had autism and loved greeting people, Chung recalled. 

Before Joe's death in 2012 in a swimming accident — Chung believes he had an epileptic seizure while in the pool — his parents were looking for a job that worked with his strengths. 

"He loved to meet people and say greetings," Chung said, adding that his son had a way of connecting with anyone.

"He had compassion, and he did not discriminate based on race, or gender or how they looked," Chung said. "He was very, very compassionate and had a good heart.”

Chung and his wife Stephanie decided that they would open a coffee shop where Joe could work, greeting customers. 

"But unfortunately, six months before we opened the first coffee shop, God took him home," the deeply religious Chung recalled.

His parents eventually decided they would move ahead and open cafés in their son's name and employ people with developmental differences.

"At the end of the day, that is the mission that God has given us, to really pay more attention to those who have different abilities," said Chung. 

A Joe's Table Café is opening on the Quest University campus, in the Library Building, on Sept. 16. 

Chung is also chairman and CEO of Primacorp Ventures Inc., which bought the Quest University Canada lands last year. 

Working with Sea to Sky Community Services Society, the cafe will employ two differently-abled staff members. 

"One thing that I found is that people with different abilities tend to stick with a job. A lot of times when you go to coffee shops, it is more of a short-term employment... but people with different abilities, they tend to stick with it.... They have a lot of pride in what they do," Chung said. 

His son would be thrilled and grateful to see all the coffee shops in his name, he added. 

"His legacy lives on." 

The Squamish café is also working with the Squamish Arts Council, Chung said, to display local artists' works. 

There is already a Joe's Table Café in New Westminster, along with two more in Korea — another is on the way there and one is in the works in Cloverdale. 

Chung said he hopes Squamish customers gain an understanding of the importance and value of inclusiveness.

"We are all in this together," he said, adding that before Joseph, there was no one in the family tree on the autism spectrum.

"I think God gave me a son like Joseph to be aware that there are different people in our society, and I think this goes beyond people with different abilities," he said, noting that there has been more racism lately, particularly against people from Asian, Black and Latinx communities.

"We should love one another; we should have peace with one another and we should help one another.”

Chung encourages other business people to work with those with different abilities. 

“I just play a small part,” he said. 

Another goal of the cafe is to better incorporate the community of Squamish into the campus of Quest. 

"That is why we did the movie nights," he said. 

Quest Summer Movie Nights ran for four weeks this summer, showing family-friendly movies. 

"We had a couple of hundred people come up for movies. That is something we like to see," he said. 

In their son's name, the philanthropic couple also launched the Joseph Chung Scholarship Fund for students pursuing post-secondary education. In 2020, they gave away $300,000 in scholarships.