Old Bridge pizzeria aims to give special-needs families a slice of the pie
OLD BRIDGE — With February's event having been deemed a success, Giusseppe's Pizza and Fine Italian Food is proceeding with its once-a-month series of designated days to offer a tailored dining experience for residents, especially children, with sensory issues.
Emily Norvilas, manager at Giusseppe's, said her staff has blocked out the second Thursday of each month in the early part of this year to lower its lights, phones, and music, and encourage a feeling of comfort even more than what she said the restaurant routinely offers.
Norvilas had a learning disability and benefited from an Individualized Education Program growing up, so the idea — which she helped hatch just a month before the first event on Feb. 13 — struck a chord with her.
"It was so great," she said of the first sensory-friendly day. "The kids were laughing, having a good time. They could just be kids and be themselves, and not have anybody judge them, which was absolutely amazing."
Members of Old Bridge's Special Education Parent Teacher Association were instrumental in putting the plan in motion.
"They were saying how people can't go out to dinner, families can't go out to dinner because children with special needs, usually, people stare at them and make them feel really uncomfortable," Norvilas said.
The speech and language department at Old Bridge High School has also helped out, developing "virtual menus" so that non-verbal children could communicate what they would like to order. Giusseppe's additionally offers "borrow boxes," from which the kids select a toy or gadget, bring it back to their table, and play before, during, and after the meal.
Norvilas called the sensory-friendly effort "by far" her most rewarding accomplishment in 12 years at the pizzeria, and said she is already receiving calls from other towns and school districts asking how to get involved.
The next event is Thursday, March 12, and with interest so high, Norvilas recommends making a reservation at 732-607-2066.
Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email email@example.com.
More from New Jersey 101.5: