Serving up smiles: Meet one of the bakers behind Tablespoons

Posted at 4:20 PM, Apr 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-28 16:53:32-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- On a typical day inside this commercial kitchen at Tablespoons Bakery, 23-year-old pastry chef Kemani Turton-Jones pours, mixes, and measures to ensure his recipe is perfect.

"We are going to make some British scones, of course," said Kemani.

These four walls give this young baker everything he needs.

"A lot of hope, a lot of happiness, and a lot of money," he laughed.

Because at Tablespoons, Kemani’s autism isn’t the main ingredient.

"We like to feel like we're part of the family," he smiled.

For six years, the Next Move Program and Tablespoons Bakery have been this baker's second home, offering him and other young adults with developmental disabilities on-the-job training.

Tablespoons Kemani 1.jpg
Kemani Turton-Jones

“We are working every day to combat the almost 70% unemployment rate for that population here in the State of Virginia," Elizabeth Redford, co-founder the Next Move Program and Tablespoons Bakery, said.

Redford is one of the program’s directors and one of Kemani’s biggest fans.

"He's funny, he's charming, he's one of our top salesmen," said Redford.

It’s hard for her to imagine where her bakers could have been years ago and where others still are.

Tablespoons Kemani 3.jpg

"Up until the 1970s, almost all of the adults that we work with today would have been institutionalized, which is just heartbreaking," she explained. "While certainly conditions overall have improved, so many of these young adults, they graduate from high school, and they just go on and they sit at home, sometimes indefinitely."

But Redford is taking measures to fix that, bringing on student interns every few weeks who shadow professionals — like Kemani.

"We teach them about, you know, inclusion," said Kemani.

"He's able to inspire others and be a role model," Redford said.

The hope is that even if they’re not natural in the kitchen, they can follow their passion to another employer in Central Virginia.

"What the research shows is that these individuals, they stay in jobs longer, there's less turnover rate, they have less absenteeism, and they are just as productive on the job as those without disabilities," Redford explained. "It's all a matter of just making sure you have the right accommodations in place.”

Tablespoons Kemani 2.jpg
Elizabeth Redford

Kemani is certain not to let anyone forget how grateful he is for this place…and these people.

"It’s like a party here," he smiled.

And he doesn’t plan to leave Tablespoons any time soon because he’s doing what he loves, and there are plenty more scones left to bake.

Tablespoons Bakery in Richmond, Va.

"Maybe thousands and billions, if we have the chance," Kemani smiled.

When Kemani isn’t baking, you can find him trying and reviewing new restaurants around Richmond or binge-watching his favorite soap opera "Days of Our Lives."

Tablespoons curriculum for adults with developmental disabilities is endorsed by the Virginia Department of Education. They work with all of the major school systems, including Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover, in Central Virginia.

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