Your Town Friday: No Label at the Table in Carmel focuses on employing people with autism

CARMEL, Ind. -- The Carmel Arts & Design District is in the heart of Old Town Carmel. It's lined with art galleries, antiques stores and shops. And there's a fairly new place called No Label at the Table, and what's happening inside is affecting a much bigger community than just Carmel.

"We're a gluten-free and dairy-free food company whose mission is to employ people on the autistic spectrum," said Shelly Henley.

Shelly's son was the inspiration.

"He’s a young man that I couldn’t get through ninth grade English, couldn’t get him to read Tom Sawyer, but he understands all the complex molecular gastronomy behind making these cakes!"

"He comes up with a lot of recipes," said Shelly. "Last week he made a peanut butter bacon cake with peanut butter maple frosting. Next week he’s thinking about chipotle carrot bread."

Her son Jacob is an older brother, a loyal friend and is living with autism.

Why the name No Label on the Table?

"Because no label was going to prevent my son from living to his full potential. There is dignity in work and taking care of yourself."

And she also says no label like a dietary restriction should keep people like her son who are dairy and gluten-free from eating good food.

"When my son was 18 and transitioning to adulthood we sat down with his whole team and group of people and loved ones and asked him, 'What do you want your job to be? What do you want to do as an adult?' And he said he wanted to be a chef. A chef?! And I kind of laughed. So we just picked him up and put him on the counter and we started cooking."

Shelly hired two more people living with autism right away. She hired a young woman to package up the cookies her son made and she hired another young man to sell them at a farmer's market.

"For me as a mom, I know when I give someone a job I’m not just employing that person. That’s a mom at home that can exhale and know that their loved one is in a safe supportive place and that they are doing something positive and proactive for their future."

Within a year, No Label at the Table landed on Carmel's Main Street and Shelly now employs thirteen people living with autism."

"I have my son, two others nearly full time and the others, whatever they can manage."

"And I get about thirty to forty inquiries about employment a day. It's heartbreaking. And if I was a mom, I would bring my kid. It makes me cry in the kitchen. I'm getting better at saying no, but I hate having to say no to people."

So how can you help?

"Hiring someone on the spectrum is the most perfect of situations," said Shelly. "They make the most ideal workers. You have an employee for life and it’s not just an employee, it’s a great employee because they’re always honest, they’re going to be loyal, and they have great pride."

You can also contact Shelly and carry their goods in your business.

Shelly says her workers enjoy cooking because it is a process-driven activity with something wonderful at the end.

"So it brought him great joy in terms of completing a task and making something to delicious to eat."

Jacob and the others have set up a cookbook club. They all pick a recipe and meet for a pitch-in once a month!

Shelly has not made any money on this business. It all goes to the ingredients and her workers. Families are driving more than an hour to show their children with autism what they can do one day.

"You couldn’t imagine what our life was like before starting this and what his future would have been. It would’ve been him and I alone, totally socially isolated. Now he talks about being a part of a team!"

Click here if you'd like to learn more about No Label at the Table or contact Shelly.

If you'd like us to come visit your town, click here and let Lindy know!