Dining differently in Brooklin

The Copper Branch restaurant in Brooklin is doing things differently these days. It has improved its menu to become more viewer-friendly, including easy-to-read text, fewer pictures, and short descriptions of their food.

The plant-based restaurant made the changes to improve the quality of its business by becoming certified by the Blue Umbrella program last year.

The Blue Umbrella program is designed for businesses that want their service to be dementia-friendly.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region, 10,000 people locally have been diagnosed with a dementia-related illness.

The Blue Umbrella symbol, often displayed on a door or window, lets customers know the staff are qualified to help those who have memory loss of other symptoms of dementia.

More than 50 businesses in Whitby and Ajax are certified by the program. Businesses receive a one-hour training session from a trainer, who works alongside volunteers and a person with dementia to educate staff.

The training includes a plan to be implemented by staff to cater to this group of customers.

Trevor Paterson, general manager at Copper Branch, helped two customers with a dementia-related illness last summer.

“One time, there was this older lady with her three daughters. One of the daughters was very familiar with the program since she saw the sticker on our front door,” he said. “She approached us about it and she wasn’t only excited but very appreciative when we gave her the menu right away and knew what she was talking about.”

After training, someone from the organization acts as a customer to see how knowledgeable the business is about the Blue Umbrella program.

“Once they pass, and once we know those changes have been made, the business can now say they are ‘dementia-friendly’,” said Christie May, director of philanthropy at Alzheimer Society of Durham Region. “We then give them a blue umbrella emblem to display in their store.”

Paterson once had a customer ask him about the symbol.

“I was working outside on the patio and this lady asked, ‘I see you have the blue umbrella sticker on your window. Do you mind telling me what that’s about?’” he said.

A member from the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region emailed the restaurant a month later impressed with how much knowledge Paterson had about the program.

May is thankful her community believes in this program.

“We were so fortunate to have the support of the Town of Whitby who gave us $25,000 to ignite this Blue Umbrella movement in Whitby,” said May. “We also received $10,000 from the Town of Ajax to ignite the movement in Ajax.”

May said dementia is an issue for many people.

“Dementia is on the rise and it has been declared a ‘world epidemic’. Many would say if they haven’t had a situation first hand with Alzheimer’s ‘Oh I don’t know anybody or that doesn’t affect me,” she said. “It does affect you. It would be hard-pressed to have a job or a role and not come cross that.”

Paterson would like to see more businesses become part of the program to improve customer service skills and equality in his community.

The Alzheimer Society of Durham Region’s goal is to expand the program beyond Whitby and Ajax.

“It’s a simple thing we take for granted, as easy as going into a restaurant or reading off a menu that some people can’t do,” said Paterson. “This program is very unique and it does cater to a group that people don’t usually think about. I think people who have relatives who experience it really appreciate there’s a society out there who are dedicated to helping them.”