Mary’s Pizza Shack in Northern California has begun offering “sensory friendly” kits to customers. The kits, which were first announced in April, are part of a joint initiative with Anova, a local non-profit autism services organization. Anova reached out to other Sonoma-based restaurants, and Mary’s was the first chain to express interest.
Mike Clark, the manager of the Mary’s Pizza Shack in Sonoma Plaza, said, “We have a number of employees whose lives have been touched by autism or learning differences in one way or the other and so our staff was 100 percent enthusiastic about our partnership with Anova.” He wants to show sensory-sensitive people that, “they are welcome here.”
Anova co-founder Andrew Bailey noted, “Many families [choose] not to dine out or enjoy many activities because of the overwhelming challenges involved. We want to turn that around by equipping restaurants such as Mary’s Pizza Shack with tools that will help create a stress-free dining environment for those families in need.”
The tools are meant to keep sensory-sensitive individuals, no matter what their age, from feeling overwhelmed in a public place. They include a weighted lap pad, noise-reduction ear muffs, a chart with an emotional scale on it, assorted sensory toys, and one small item for the child to take home with them. They come packed in a plastic “toolbox” with instructions and the children and families are free to choose and use what they’d like. All of the items are thoroughly cleaned before being packed back into the kit for the next person. The kits are free and available to anybody upon request.
Each of Mary’s locations carry the kits, and each restaurant has a sticker on their window advertising their availability. The chain also plans to have tent cards on each table informing diners about the kits. Anova hopes that word about the sensory-friendly kits spreads through word-of-mouth, and with the help of the local radio station, and that other restaurants and businesses sign up to offer the kits. Anova’s end goal is to encourage inclusion in their community, and also enable families with special needs to go out to dine, shop, and participate in typical community activities.
Additionally, Anova has providing sensory training for all employees of every Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurant, and has developed an informational video for them. Mary’s Pizza Shacks are now the first sensory-friendly restaurants in Sonoma County.
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