When I got a Facebook message that asked if ASFV does anything to recognize autism friendly businesses, I just had to follow up. This follow-up messaging led me to Winneconne and the Wolf Isle Bar and Grill. The owner Max Clifford and sous chef Ross Hoffman have created a wonderful, accepting work environment where learning about autism happens in the day to day role of running a business.
The Wolf Isle Bar & Grill is located at 235 W. Main St. downtown Winneconne. Max and his partner Shawn opened the doors with a New Year’s Eve celebration January 1, 2016. I asked Max to tell me his story and how he came to employ young adults on the spectrum. With a big smile he told me how a parent approached one of the employees and asked if there might be a job for her sons with high functioning autism. Max admitted he had no idea about autism or what to expect. The interview was different than other interviews as he let the applicant share information about himself. He remembers how nervous they both were, but this led to “a sense of openness and trying to get a feel for the applicant.” “Relating to him about his interests was key to building the relationship that has helped him come out of his shell.” Max found out that organization and visualizing things in their place were strengths for this young man, so he hired him to help in the kitchen. Max created task lists that are posted. He taught what was expected for each item. Now whenever there is down time, the list serves as a guide to being productive without someone having to tell him what to do. A couple weeks later his brother was also hired and they are very big assets to the restaurant staff.
I asked how some of the characteristics and features of autism affect job performance. Max said the most positive things he could think of were the incredibly punctual nature, willingness to work, and how the visuals in the kitchen make them self-sufficient. The routine of the kitchen has made the brothers role models for other employees. When asked about any bumps in the road, Max relayed a story about the paychecks. Max assumed the employees knew where to pick up their paycheck or at least who to ask, but this was not the case and when 2 weeks passed, it came to light that the boys did not receive their checks. This led to a great lesson in communication. “You can’t teach everyone the same way,” Max said. “What you think they know, well, you can’t assume that.”
Thank you Max for sharing your story, delicious food, and wonderful atmosphere. Thank you Cheryl Paulsen for giving me the lead to this autism-friendly business. Your sons are most definitely in a supportive work environment, with a boss who is very proud of their accomplishments.
Respectfully submitted, Diane Nackers