Taylor’s business community just got more diverse as new eatery Say Cheese gave jobs and new purpose to special needs individuals Saturday, Nov. 23 with a soft opening inside Sweet and Southern Finds.
The restaurant’s director, Corey Graef, said its goal is to allow those with special needs to contribute meaningful work to Taylor.
“We’re trying to give them work with meaning, purpose,” he said.
Graef said depending on how things go, he was hoping to open in January.
“We’re hoping it grows into a real thing,” he said. “We’ve already done training two days out of this week so we want to continue the training. The parents have been awesome, our team members are amazing so, they’ve really enjoyed this.”
He and director Debbie Jackson started the idea when they were teachers at Taylor High School. They started the restaurant inside their classroom and invited the community to come in to eat grilled cheese sandwiches.
That’s when Graef said he and Jackson realized they wanted to expand the then-academic restaurant.
“We thought, ‘let’s reach more people,’” he said. “Our team members have abilities. I want to raise awareness that they have abilities and they want to be apart of the community. [I want] to have people come and see the talents that they have.”
That thought has now become a reality, and no one understands that more than Jackson.
“It’s kind of a vision that has come true,” she said. “We’ve worked for this for years. We started at the high school and these were former students of mine and seeing them become young adults has come full circle. To see their skills and abilities it just means the world, it’s very gratifying,”
“I think it shows we’re more alike than we are different," she said. "I think the city of Taylor will embrace persons with disabilities and they’ll contribute in many different ways.”
Owner of Sweet and Southern Finds Karyn Morris is also a director for Say Cheese. The resturaunt’s cooking space, which located inside the store, was provided by Morris after she closed down her bakery. She said she’s optimistic about the restaurant’s future.
“It’s been awesome working with Corey and Debbie and all the work they’ve done with their students,” she said. “It’s been fun and I hope it’ll be a positive thing for the community.”
Most of the staff are adults, while a few are students from Taylor and one being from thrall.
Noah Springfield is a staff member for Say Cheese and he says he enjoys working there. His favorite duty is making to-go boxes and his stepmother Cari Springfield said he said the job not only fits him, but also prepares him for the real world.
“He thrives on routine and structure, so this gives him real life work skills,” she said. “This is his last year of public schools, so next year he’ll be in the real world.”
His father Lynn Springfield agreed and said the restaurant would be the best place to start.
“For me, the goal is that he can be more independent in his work space and living situation,” he said. “This is just a nice place to enter that zone.”
Noah’s mother, Stephanie Springfield, said her biggest takeaway she hopes her son has, is to be a contributing member to society.
“I’ve always wanted Noah to contribute, I didn’t want him to sit at home once he graduated from school,” she said. “There’s so few opportunities with that for kids of special needs. I’m really excited that there’s something local and it makes it a little easier for him to give back and express who he is.”
She also hopes that the job will improve his quality of life by establishing bonds with people he meets and giving him purpose.
Also in attendance was Deputy City Manager Jeff Jenkins, who said it added to the fabric of Taylor business and community.
“It just adds more to the sense of place for the city of Taylor and the surrounding areas,” he said. “It’s something wonderful that Taylor ISD is doing, to have an opportunity like this for students with disabilities. They want to work to just like anyone else, I think this is a great way of doing this.”