Kendal Carrick from Cakeable Charlotte

Every Ingredient Matters

Cabo Fish Taco Ballantyne’s charitable efforts support the disability community

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Megan Cantrell, Milk + Honey Photography

When Ryan Costin arrives at Gigi’s Playhouse, students from the Down Syndrome Achievement Center greet him with hugs and excitement. “They’re the older teens who may be getting ready to launch out of high school and into adult roles,” he explains. Costin brings food, utensils and everything the group will need to practice meal-preparation skills. Tacos are always a hit, especially an easy dessert version the students like to make with tortillas, bananas and Nutella. “I show them how to cook safely and efficiently. It’s so rewarding to see them grow,” he says.

Costin is the kitchen manager at Cabo Fish Taco Ballantyne, and he’s part of the restaurant’s outreach program to support the disability community.

Its roster of charitable works is expansive. It’s helmed by Cabo Ballantyne partner and co-owner Craig Calcasola, who has a background in event planning. He and his wife, Patty, have three daughters, one with Down syndrome.

Cabo Fish Taco Ballantyne's kitchen manager, Ryan Costin, volunteers at Gigi's Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center; Treana Suggs created mixed-media paintings during the 2023 Taco Dash 5K race; Miller Brydon assists with catering orders and more at Cabo; Kendal Carrick works at Cakeable Charlotte, which Taco Dash proceeds support; and Craig Calcasola, partner and co-owner of Cabo Ballantyne, is realizing his vision for the restaurant to assist with charitable efforts.

Now, in the restaurant’s fifth year, Calcasola recalls his original vision. “Even before we opened, in my mind, it was always going to be something that we would do: Incorporate charitable elements into what we’re doing at the restaurant.” He recognized that the growth of the Ballantyne campus would be a plus.

That was the start of the Taco Dash, a 5K road race that began in 2021. Its mission is “to support local businesses and organizations that train, employ and provide life-skills for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. Its goal is to see all individuals with autism, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities find their purpose and place in the community.”

In the years since the first race, the event has grown as Calcasola has invited community members across business, civic and creative communities to participate in the Taco Dash and other activities. Daughter Sophia, an Ardrey Kell High School senior, has taken on some of the logistics for the event.

Renee Ratcliffe was a special education teacher who loved to bake. When she realized her hobby could raise funds and equip people with job skills, Cakeable bakery was born. Its workforce training program supplies mini-breads, cheese biscuits, brownies and more to retailers and markets around the city.

“Craig is quite the connector,” she states. After Ratcliffe hosted a table at a Taco Dash several years back, she remembers, “He said, ‘We’re excited about what you do, and we would love for part of the proceeds to support you.’” Those proceeds helped Cakeable purchase a delivery van and develop its wholesale business.