Growing Hope at Taziki’s

By: Meagan Campbell

One of my favorite times to walk into the Birmingham stores are in the mornings because I’m greeted by the sweet, smiling faces of employees with Down Syndrome. They are busy cleaning tables, rolling silverware, and picking grapes off the stem. Some of these people have been with Taziki’s 3 to 4 times longer than I have! If I walk into Chace Lake, Daniel comes to give me a hug, ask me how I’m doing, then tell me he has to get back to work. If I walk into Lee Branch, I get a smile and hug from Mark and Erica, and then an (expected) eye-roll from Brandy, Keith’s first hire with Down Syndrome. These employees are a huge asset to each of their stores.

Why did we start hiring individuals with disabilities? At first, for no other reason than Keith’s friend Cindy Vinson was finding a job placement for one of her students. Then later, we saw that we didn’t want to operate the store without them. These employees complete their tasks full of contagious joy; joy that every store needs.

Basil grown by HOPE students from Shelby County High School with their teacher Marisol Lilly.

 Basil grown by HOPE students from Shelby County High School with their teacher Marisol Lilly.

Basil grown by HOPE students from Shelby County High School with their teacher Marisol Lilly.

So why wouldn’t you hire an individual with a disability in your business?

The HOPE Project began with Keith hiring Brandy more than 12 years ago and has grown into something so much bigger. HOPE stands for Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment; individuals find enrichment through gainful employment, whether that is working at a store or growing herbs for a restaurant.  We now see HOPE grown by special needs programs at local schools and non-profits; it’s so simple, yet so purposeful. They grow herbs and we buy them to use in our food.

So why do I help with the HOPE Project? Observing these individuals work is such a tangible way to see good, purposeful work. I want to help people grow in all aspects of life, and connecting individuals, schools, and restaurants together is a wonderful way that I am able to do that.

Employees from almost all of the Birmingham locations celebrating 20 year’s of Taziki’s!

 Employees from almost all of the Birmingham locations celebrating 20 year’s of Taziki’s!

Employees from almost all of the Birmingham locations celebrating 20 year’s of Taziki’s!

Our plan is to make all of the education about the HOPE Project available, strengthen the web of mentors who have started other HOPE Projects, and be an example to the restaurant industry. We can make a difference, it just starts with hiring one.

Are you interested in making a difference? Here are 5 ways you can get started.

  1. Support local businesses that hire individuals with disabilities.
  2. Look at what types of jobs individuals with disabilities can do in your business and reach out to your local employment agency that places these special individuals. Focus on ability—what they can do, not what they can’t do.
  3. If you’re a restauranteur, connect with a local school or non-profit and see if they would want to grow herbs for your restaurant.
  4. If you’re an educator or non-profit leader, brainstorm restaurants that serve fresh herbs and reach out to them to see if they would be interested in buying herbs from you.
  5. If you want more information, check out wegrowhope.org.

About Meagan:  Meagan Campbell is from Birmingham and graduated from Auburn University with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management. She lives in Birmingham and work with Taziki’s Home Office in the training Department and coordinates for The HOPE Project. She has a heart for the least of these.