Getting to Know Kyle and Cordell at Not Your Typical Deli
by Krystal Downie
Autism Awareness Month may be over but the show goes on for Kyle and Cordell at Not Your Typical Deli in Gilbert, where over half of the staff is on the autism spectrum, like Kyle and Cordell, or has some other developmental disability. Since opening last July, NYTD has received rave reviews on Yelp and has been written about in the press, not only for their delicious Italian-Cuban-inspired cuisine but also for their philosophy on hiring individuals with developmental disabilities and helping other business leaders see the value in integrated employment.
I wanted to get to know a couple employees who’ve been there since the beginning and who are what make NYTD what it is today. Kyle, a friendly, laid-back line cook and Cordell, a charming, bowtie-wearing server, fit the bill and were nice enough to answer a few questions.
Krystal: What do you do here, Kyle?
Kyle: I run the hot line, making sure all the hot items, like meatballs and soup, are prepped and ready to go before we open. And after we start for the day, I mostly run the line myself.
Krystal: Before you started did you think employers had misconceptions about hiring someone with autism?
Kyle: Yes, that maybe I wasn’t smart enough or that I couldn’t be worked with.
Krystal: Is there any part of your job that you struggle or excel at?
Kyle: I struggle with keeping up with the line sometimes but for the most part, I run the line pretty well.
Krystal: Are you planning a career in the culinary arts?
Kyle: Not really. I want to be a video game designer. I’m taking a couple of courses at Mesa Community College, including a CIS class.
Krystal: An investigative crime scene class?
Kyle: No, CIS is computers – not crime scene.
Krystal: Oh yeah – whoops! Too much T.V., I guess.
Krystal: So, April was Autism Awareness Month. Are you ever involved in awareness events?
Kyle: Not that much. But in October, my mom and I usually set up a booth at the Phoenix Zoo for its annual Zoowalk for autism research.
Krystal: Very cool. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Kyle: I just got my driver’s license and my own car! So now I drive myself to work and school.
Krystal: Wow, that’s great -- gives you more freedom, right?
Kyle: Oh yeah!
Krystal: Well thanks for chatting with me.
Kyle: You’re welcome
Krystal: So Cordell, it looks like you’re the front-of-the-house guy. Do you ever work in the back?
Cordell: Oh no. I don’t cook. I’m much better with the customers.
Krystal: Oh yeah? Would you say that’s your favorite part of your job?
Cordell: Definitely. I love interacting with the customers, getting to know them, hearing their stories, serving them great food. That’s kind of weird for me to say because with my autism, I used to not like interacting with people very much. But since working here I couldn’t be more different. I really love people. I love interacting with the customers and my coworkers, as well.
Krystal: Before you started here, did you think that employers had misconceptions about hiring someone on the autism spectrum?
Cordell: Yes, but I couldn’t be sure about it because job applications are submitted online. It would be hard to tell if they had misconceptions because I never met with anyone in person. I went into a place one time to see if I could fill an application out in person but was just told to submit it online. I applied for jobs for seven months before starting here and I never got a single response. I even remember one application asked about my disability status, which doesn’t seem right. They don’t do that here. If you want to work here, they want you to bring in the application personally.
Krystal: Since you were one of the first employees at NYTD, are you ever asked to train newcomers?
Cordell: Oh yes. I actually trained most of the newcomers at our new location at the EVIT Mesa Campus in the Adelante Health Care facility.
Krystal: Is there any part of your job that you could live without?
Cordell: Yes. I could live without answering the phones when solicitors call.
Krystal: I can’t argue with you there. So, when you’re not at work what are you doing? Do you have any hobbies?
Cordell: When I’m at my apartment, I like to play the violin and cello in my spare time. I’m also teaching myself how to play the flute and the ukulele but the ukulele has been pretty complicated.
Krystal: I bet it is. Do you live by yourself or do you have a roommate?
Cordell: I have a roommate, a family friend.
Cordell: Oh, I also like hanging out with my friend and talking about “The Flash” and “Doctor Who.”
Krystal: I love “Doctor Who”! Which actor is your favorite Doctor?
Cordell: I love Matt Smith – he’s my favorite. I like the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, too, but the writing for him isn’t as good.
Krystal: Agreed. Now, I have to ask you about your bowtie. I really like it.
Cordell: Oh yes. The bowtie. Well my friends and I started wearing nerdy shirts and bowties to work and Chef W thought the bowtie was actually really cool, so we started Nerds Day Thursday. But I wear a bowtie every day I work but only on Thursdays do I wear one that I have to tie myself – on the other days, I wear a clip on.
Krystal: Perfect, Cordell. Thank you so much for chatting with me.
Cordell: You’re so welcome.
Not Your Typical Deli is more than a unique dining experience – it has really become a family. I could sense the warmth and camaraderie as soon as I stepped foot inside, in no small part because of people like Kyle and Cordell, who, in spite of their disability and society’s perception of them, are absolutely capable employees contributing their unique talents to the workforce. NYTD is a testament to how successful an integrated workplace can be and what it can mean for the people who work there. The folks at NYTD want other businesses to know the value people with autism or other developmental disabilities can bring to their business. That’s why they are trying to implement a program that will offer restaurant job-training scholarships for individuals with developmental disabilities. In hopes of fulfilling this goal, NYTD has entered a Community Thrives Competition, in which the public is able to vote for their favorite community improvement idea. The proposal that gets the most votes by May 12 will receive a $100,000 grant toward executing their idea.
Good luck NYTD! And please keep making those homemade chocolate chip scones – they are positively sinful.