Shelly Henley needed a plan.
Her son, Jacob, was approaching his 18th birthday and he wouldn’t be going to college, nor did he have any job prospects.
Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old, had services in place to support him and his family throughout his childhood, but they would no longer be available once he turned 22.
Henley sat Jacob down, along with their team of professionals, and asked him, “What do you want your main job to be?” Jacob said he wanted to be a chef, and so began the creation of No Label at The Table, a gluten-free and dairy-free food company staffed by people on the autistic spectrum. Jacob is the executive chef.
Henley shared the story of their journey with Indy’s Child.
What was your inspiration for starting No Label at The Table?
“There’s something in (the autism) community called “falling off the cliff,” which means that when you turn 22, you run out of time for services. My son would have been sitting at home with me all day, and both of us would have pretty much lived a life of isolation.
Jacob had been on a gluten- and dairy-free diet for more than 20 years — he prepared his own food and was very interested in it. That’s why he wanted to be a chef, I’m sure.”
How did you get the business going?
“I had a business plan for the first two years and started with three employees: Jacob cooked, one young lady packaged and labeled, and another young man sold at the Carmel Farmer’s Market. We started Mother’s Day weekend, and by the Fourth of July, they had made it through the business plan. That was nearly four years ago and now we have 17 employees.”
In what ways have you seen your organization impact the community?
“I’m the only volunteer; everybody else gets a paycheck. It’s a real job. I see mothers that can exhale knowing their kids are in a safe place doing something productive and being a part of the world. I’m not in the business of selling cookies; I’m in the business of employing people.”
How have you seen Jacob change?
“His brother had been home from college for two days and said to me how much more independent Jacob is, how much more he’s talking, that he’s smiling. Those aren’t things we had two or three years ago.”
What are your plans for the future?
“To add a vegetable butcher where people can walk in, buy their produce, and take it home or have the vegetables prepped — cut the way you want, or prepared with gluten-free and vegan spice blends. We would plant, grow, harvest and prepare the food. That’s how I want to eat. I want to know who grows my food, what goes in it. And if I’m putting someone to work who would otherwise be sitting in their parents’ basement, collecting disability, even better.”
For more information on No Label at The Table Food Company, visit nolabelatthetable.com.