NEW YORK - Accessible for all — it's not only the tagline of Contento, it's what makes the restaurant unique.
This East Harlem eatery is the brainchild of Yannick Benjamin. After a tragic accident on the West Side Highway left him a paraplegic, he is proof that your life can change in an instant. At the age of 25, he was told he'd never walk again and that a physically demanding and stressful restaurant job probably wasn't a good idea.
But Benjamin's dad, brother, and cousins were all in the restaurant business. So despite being told that being confined to a wheelchair meant he needed to get a day job, he forged on.
Instead of being overcrowded with seating, the aisle at Contento is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. There's also a braille version of the menu and, upon request, adaptive flatware. But perhaps the most talked-about design consideration is the bi-level bar that easily accommodates wheelchairs. Benjamin also says the most important thing is having a staff that has empathy.
He is also paying it forward through the organization Wine on Wheels, which helps people with disabilities find jobs in the restaurant business.
The food at Contento is Peruvian with a Mediterranean flair. Bestsellers are the duck with green fried rice, the octopus with black chimichurri, and — no surprise here — the ceviche clasico with scallops. While the bar is fully appointed if you decide to have a glass of wine, you may want to try Liquid Geography. Proceeds from every bottle of this rose go toward three charities that help the disabled, which means you can drink up and give back.
Contento proves that if you build it, they will come. It's the restaurant where everyone has a seat at the table.