We’ve all got a favourite café or coffee haunt, somewhere we stop for a cuppa, a natter or a bite to eat. But not all cafés are created equal. Seven Sharp’s Rachel Parkin discovers a southern hospitality spot that takes the cake, with staff all facing extra challenges — and all the more fabulous for that.

Hands gripped, eyes laser-focused, John Halliday squeezed the tube as though his life depended on it. Icing the hummingbird cake was his big job for re-opening day, and he wasn’t going to stuff it up.

“Waa-la [voila]!” he said to our camera with a wide grin, revealing generous cream cheese dollops.

“Yay,” said his friend Anna Rose, clapping. “I’m happy.”

At the #29 Living Options training café in Alexandra, they are all happy, and teamwork and inclusion are everything. Each person working there had a disability re-honed as a superpower. Each person had a job.

“Now Amber Guest, you are my champion duster … can you just finish off dusting, please?” said café manager Rose Jefcoate. “Liam, can you please put out the muffins?”

Guest’s dusting was meticulous. Liam McLeod’s muffin stack was bang-on.

“What’s your main job today?” I asked as he worked from his wheelchair.

“I’m one of the waiters here at the Number 29 Café,” McLeod said. “I like socialising and meeting the customers that come into the café.”

That social element, it turned out, was the café’s secret sauce. It is a chance not just for Living Options members to meet the community but for the community to meet them. Again.

The café, you see, isn’t new. This was the re-opening — for afternoon tea on Thursdays — after Covid forced closure for several years.

As a korowai-clad Halliday greeted customers at the door and burst into a haka, there were smiles all around.

Tasty treats served up at the Number 29 Living Options training café.

Tucked up on cosy seats, munching and chatting, then minutes later, they were still thrilled.

“It’s just so lovely to be here with everyone,” one lady said. “We have a great social time together.”

“You come here, and it’s a place of happiness,” a gentleman said.

For Olivia Wildey, it was also a happy day for two reasons.

It was her first outing with 4-month-old Adita and the re-birth of her first baby — the training café itself — 15 years ago.

“So, I’m on maternity leave now but I used to work as an art therapist here and at the time we thought ‘Well, let’s start a café’,” she said.

“It was a very fun initiative for the guys to do and something they could really own. It’s so great to see people we support be really proud in the workplace.”

Flynn Laker, who previously featured on Seven Sharp for his booming sock business, was having a ball.

“How’s it going?” I asked between orders.

“Good, thank you!” Laker said, his eyes honed on the tray, one foot carefully placed after another.

And as tray after tray went out — with absolutely no spillage — the happy hubbub said it all.

“How many stars?” I asked customer Glenda Divine, whose son Todd used to work there.

“Oh, 12 out of 10!” she declared.

It was, by all accounts, good to be back.

And the cheese rolls? Heavenly.