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Surgeon saves cafe to capture son's talents

PUBLISHED: 14:05 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:53 07 September 2010

A SURGEON has saved the life of a cafe in the heart of Belsize village and provided a workplace for his autistic son at the same time. Dr Otto Chan, who lives on Fellows Road, has bought a 15-year lease on The Village Cafe on Belsize Lane. Aft

Marc Mullen

A SURGEON has saved the life of a cafe in the heart of Belsize village and provided a workplace for his autistic son at the same time.

Dr Otto Chan, who lives on Fellows Road, has bought a 15-year lease on The Village Cafe on Belsize Lane.

After some sprucing up, the new-look cafe will open on March 31 fulfilling a dream of Dr Chan that he would find a place to provide employment for his son Oliver, who was born with severe autism.

"We were on our way to France on the Channel Tunnel when I spotted the advert in the Ham&High property section," said Dr Chan.

"It has been my favourite cafe. I am chairman of the PTA at St Mary's School and that is where we used to meet.

"About 10 or 11 years ago, I said to my ex-wife Caroline that I had to find a long-term job for Oliver so that he could survive independently.

"My idea was that he could work in a cafe. So I couldn't believe my favourite cafe came up for sale just at the time when I was looking for one."

Oliver Chan, 21, studies art at Westminster Kingsway College in Holmes Road, Kentish Town.

After having problems with speech up to the age of 10, he went to the specialist schools Whitefields in Walthamstow and Oak Lodge, East Finchley, which did "a fantastic job".

When he starts work at The Village Cafe later this month, he will initially work two or three half days a week while he completes his studies.

Dr Chan said: "He has done incredibly well. My ex-wife is very musical and he is grade five at piano. We are going to paint the cafe white and we will hang some of his artwork on the wall.

"It will be up for sale along with some postcards he will do and we will give all that money to charity.

"I have no doubt that in a few years he will be running the cafe.

"I am very excited about it. It is purely a venture for him - I could make more money in an afternoon of private work than I would make in a month at the cafe."

The deal was struck as soon as Dr Chan returned from France.

He has hired a manager to run the cafe and says he will reintroduce a full breakfast menu and improve the outdoor area at the back so that children can use it in all weathers.

There will be music and painting days for children and he will ask local mums and dads to bake cakes for sale in the shop.

Dr Chan added: "I am very animated about this, very excited. The opportunity could not have come at a more perfect time."

marc.mullen@hamhigh.co.uk

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