BY BETH DEDMAN
A white storefront in the Tribeca area of Lower Manhattan stands out among the brown and gray shops surrounding it. On the front door, in big purple letters are the words “Luv Michael” and “AMAP: Autism Made. Autism Paid.”
Luv Michael is a non-profit organization that produces organic, allergen- and gluten-free granola that employs and trains people with autism and other developmental disabilities.
The company is showcasing its new book, “The Tales at Luv Michael, The Big Idea” and partnering with New York Makers in a pop-up shop collaboration during the Valentine’s Day weekend.
Every copy of the book that customers purchase on Feb. 11 at the Luv Michael Kitchen & Learning Center, 42 Walker St., will be signed by president, founder and author Lisa Liberatore. Customers will also receive a free bag of Luv Michael granola in either the Originola or Mocha flavors, according to the Luv Michael website.
Lauren King illustrated the book over the course of a year and reflected the personalities of each of the “granologists” in their caricatures, Liberatore said. King also designed the Luv Michael t-shirts.
“We are trying to raise awareness and tell our story in a fun way and get to know the people in our area,” Liberatore said.
“The Tales at Luv Michael, The Big Idea” tells, among others, the story of how Liberatore started the organization because of her son, Michael Kessaris, who has autism.
When Kessaris turned 21, Liberatore said, he was too old to participate in education programs for people with autism. In search of a vocation, Kessaris and Liberatore began a small cooking business out of their home and trained with people from the Institute of Culinary Education.
After word of their business got around, they were able to open a location in the Tribeca area of lower Manhattan in October 2019.
What started as one person’s path to fulfillment led to the development of the Luv Michael organization, which employs 10 “granologists,” all of whom are young adults, ages 21-35, with autism or developmental disabilities.
The employees work with a master baker and a special education teacher on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Liberatore said. Their curriculum includes the rules and regulations of a NYC food handler’s license.
“They do the sales, tastings and deliveries, as well as the making of the product,” Liberatore said.
Luv Michael is partnering with New York Makers, an online marketplace and magazine, for a pop-up gift shop Feb. 12-15. The store will be open from 12 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Shoppers will be able to sample and purchase many of New York Maker’s products, as well as one made in collaboration with Luv Michael.
“We thought we could help them by letting them use our space and they taught us how to run a pop-up,” Liberatore said. “We picked things from them that we thought would enhance our pop-ups. I feel like our missions align and they are wonderful and we are trying to work with like-minded, positive people and focus on quality products as well.”
Liberatore hopes to have more opportunities to collaborate with celebrity chefs and different people in the culinary world after the next six months. She also wants to at least double their employee pool and begin to collaborate with schools and internship programs to replicate the Luv Michael model throughout the country.
“Our message is that we want to highlight the amazing qualities of autism,” Liberatore said. “They are very amazing and capable employees that are very proud of what they do and they are excited to show the world what they can do.”
All the money from book sales, as well as granola sales, benefit LuvMichael.org. T-shirts, bulk orders of granola and gift baskets are available for purchase at the Luv Michael website. New York Makers also sells individual bags of Luv Michael granola on their website for $3.
The book is available at the nonprofits Walker Street store or on Amazon. It’s also set to arrive at book stores soon.