‘Pop in’ to this popcorn shop to see NJ’s autistic community at work
EAST BRUNSWICK — They're an equal "popportunity" employer.
A popcorn shop, now with its main base in Middlesex County, puts a heavy focus on hiring adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.
When their high-functioning autistic son Sam just couldn't find a satisfying job, Steven Bier and his wife made a big move to tackle the problem for Sam and others in the autistic community, which faces an estimated unemployment rate of 80 to 90 percent.
Pop-In Cafe, which debuted in Freehold in 2015, has since shifted to Brunswick Square Mall, serving several varieties of their product known as Popcorn for the People, along with bagels and sandwiches.
"Sam cooks the popcorn," Bier told New Jersey 101.5. "He doesn't do the sales part as much; he's a little shy."
The 27-year-old is one of up to 15 cafe employees on the spectrum, according to Bier. Job opportunities range from simple manual labor to complex tasks, he said, and they share the floor with "neurotypical" workers.
On-the-job training is offered to local developmentally-disabled high school students.
All profits go right into their charitable organization Let's Work For Good, which continues the mission of providing meaningful employment to folks like Sam.
Thanks to generous donations, operations have recently expanded to include a processing center, also in East Brunswick. Bier said the upgrade has led to the creation of pop-up stores at supermarkets and other locations, along with online sales.
Popcorn for the People is now the premiere gourmet popcorn at all Rutgers University home athletic events, Bier said. That exposes their mission — and unique popcorn flavors, such as x-treme caramel and cookies 'n cream — to thousands of people on a weekly basis.
"At most of the shops, there's usually one of the kids who's on the spectrum, helping out with sales," Bier said.
Recent data show one in 41 8-year-olds has autism in New Jersey. The state is said to have the highest autism rate in the country, possibly due to better testing.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.