Located on Zalka’s internal road between Al Roumi butchery and Mitsubishi motors, The Agonist is not a cafe like any other. A special initiative by a passionate physiotherapist, the cafe employs people with special needs giving them a chance to shine. Customers on another hand will learn a lot while enjoying soothing music, quick bites and freshly brewed coffee.
A floor covered with grey concrete and decorated with yellow colors, the cafe is soothing and relaxing. One wall is made of white bricks; another is covered with a wallpaper while the third displays branded mugs. Arrive at the counter, order or choose a table and a waiter will approach you.
The word “Agonist” is defined as “a substance which initiates a physiological response when combined with a receptor.”
Things are different but easy around here: Agonist Coffee Shop is a special cafe; Tables do not have numbers but colored signs. Tick your order on the menu and mention your table’s color to facilitate identification. The agonist is the first in Lebanon run by a team of employees with special needs.
El Hage, who is a physical therapist, found joy in interacting with people with special needs while working with them. Thus, being familiar with their capacities, he decided to give them an opportunity to work in a place where there is direct contact with people. He noticed that they usually work on handmade crafts only “behind the scenes." El Hage collaborates with the Lebanese Down Syndrome Association in recruiting workers. His staff includes 12 employees. They have participated in a 3-month training programme to prepare them for the job. They work 6-hour shifts, and there are usually four people working per shift.
Welcoming, the staff makes sure you are pampered. I ordered the Nutella cookie, chocolate eclair and red velvet muffin alongside a French press. On a calm Friday morning, I laid back, enjoyed a quiet moment before moving on with my day.