A Bayside woman is helping individuals with autism join the workforce in a delicious and healthy way.
In 2015, Dr. Lisa Liberatore founded the Luv Michael Granola company, a Long Island City-based nonprofit which aims to “train, educate and employ people with autism and special needs.” She was inspired after she noticed that there was not enough being done to help people with autism, including her son, figure out the skills they could use in the workforce.
“They were graduating and sort of figuring out what their life was gonna look like afterward,” said Liberatore. “That concerned me and [my husband] and we started to look at what are Michael’s interests and what are his abilities and how could that be translated into a meaningful life for him.”
She also shared that Michael had always had a love of food but found it hard to break into the culinary industry without a high school diploma. So in partnership with her husband Dr. Dimitri Kessaris, Libertore started Luv Michael which utilizes a “culinary entrepreneurial model” to manufacture and sell granola.
Liberatore chose granola as a way to reinforce the company’s mission of people with autism following a healthy lifestyle. She said that those with the condition are often obese due to the use of food as reinforcement and also a lack of exercise.
A typical day for the 12 Luv Michael employees — 10 young men and two young women — begins the night before work. The employees are required to clean and press their uniforms, pack a lunch and go to bed early.
Employees or “granologists” are split into two groups during their 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. workday: one group starts in the kitchen and the other group sits through lessons in a classroom. Classes are taught by Sarah Kull, who personalizes the food-centric lessons for each employee based on their abilities.
One of the main goals in the Luv Michael classroom is to prepare individuals to earn their food safety and ServSafe certifications so that they might move on to other ventures outside of the company. Liberatore said that some of her former employees have left to further their education or get full-time jobs in other kitchens.
In the kitchen, each person follows the 12-step process to make the granola, which starts with weighing and measuring the ingredients and ends with packaging the product and applying labels. On average, Liberatore said that they make about 500 bags of granola per day.
The company is currently based in LIC, but Liberatore said they are planning to open their own freestanding location in Tribeca over the next few months. She shared that the bigger space will allow the company to hire more people for regular day shifts, night shifts and weekends.
Luv Michael Granola is currently sold in 60 stores across New York City and the Hamptons. Click here to find a location near you or to inquire about a monthly granola subscription. To learn more about the company’s speaking engagements and employment opportunities, visit the Luv Michael website.
All proceeds from sales go toward training, educating and employing individuals with autism.