Tamara Tedesco never thought she would work outside of the office-serving tables and balancing plates weren't in the cards for the blind 27-year-old.
But new Vancouver restaurant Dark Table is giving her a chance at a profession that's usually reserved for those with sight. Customers will reverse roles with their blind guide servers and eat their meals in complete and utter darkness.
"It's very unique experience," said restaurant founder Moe Alameddine. The 43-year-old Alameddine hails from Montreal where he opened one of Canada's first dining-in the-dark venues in 2006. He followed with another O.Noir restaurant in Toronto in 2009.
He explained that patrons will choose their meals on the lit patio and then be led to their table by their blind server. In complete darkness, customers will rely on the server to not only serve food but to also be by their side if they need to get up from their seats.
The Vancouver location has been in the works since 2010.
According to Alameddine, it's brought a whole new challenge of creating food that emphasizes taste, texture and smell over visual presentation.
But he is most excited about creating job opportunities for the visually impaired-a group with a 65 per cent unemployment rate according to Open Door, a Vancouver-based non-profit group that helps British Columbians with disabilities find jobs in their communities.
Earlier this summer, the restaurant teamed up with Open Door to find employees.
To date, 10 guide servers, including Tedesco, have nearly completed their two months of training in preparation for the Sept. 20 opening at 2611 West Fourth Ave.
"For someone with my level of vision loss, jobs in the service industry are rare," said Tedesco, who serves as communications coordinator at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
People who are visually impaired tend to work in front of a computer all day, she said. "Serving is something that I've always kind of wanted to do, it's one of those things that I've been sad to have missed out on, so again, this kind of fell into place and is a rare exciting opportunity."
But the training hasn't been easy. "I initially went in there saying, 'I can't see! How on earth am I going to carry around plates and serve people and clear tables?" Tedesco said with a laugh.
And without the help of her guide dog, how was she supposed to get around?
With Alameddine's assistance, she learned how to carry trays of wine glasses, balance plates of food and learned the layout of the restaurant. "I have it all memorized in my head, how many tables there are, where the tables are, how many seats each table has," she said. And as for Pike, her guide dog, he'll be waiting out in a pen Alameddine built on the restaurant patio.
Now that Tedesco is prepared, she wants customers to feel comfortable asking questions.
"I've done this a hundred times before," said Tedesco. "I hope that the fact that I can't see and that I'm used to eating without being able to see my food, I hope that will put people at ease and I really want people to feel comfortable asking me questions or asking me for tips or sort of voicing their fears or frustrations."