Wildwood Crest’s newest dining destination has a mission to not only serve up delicious treats, but to also provide a welcoming destination for families of children with autism and other disabilities: owners Aimee and Karl Famiano drew inspiration from their own family’s experiences when they opened Brandon’s Pancake House and Ice Cream Parlor on New Jersey Avenue — named after their son.
Over the years, the couple noticed how Brandon, who has autism and is nonverbal, would often be overlooked and left out when dining out with his family, Aimee said. “Servers wouldn’t give him a menu because they would assume that he couldn’t read. And the look on his face because of the lack of inclusion and compassion — being at a table with a bunch of people and being overlooked.”
From the decorations to the menus and trained staff, the pancake house puts special emphasis on details that make the dining experience more inclusive. For instance, one of their menus contain images of the items, so people who are nonverbal can point to or circle an item with a dry erase marker when they are ready to order.
Walking into Brandon’s, customers will also spot a counter covered in autism awareness puzzle pieces that many guests have already written their names on. There is also a basket full of sensory toys for customers of all ages to fidget and play with while they wait for their food or to be seated. And if the restaurant gets too loud, servers can offer guests noise canceling headphones.
The restaurant also makes it a mission to hire people with disabilities. Brandon, now age 25, helps out by putting away plates and organizing the silverware. Brandon’s Pancake House also collaborates with local schools to offer paid job opportunities to help high school students with autism and other disabilities gain work experience and develop life and culinary skills.
Although there have been challenges with finding good workers to keep up with orders at the restaurant, the business is thriving and going “better than expected,” said Karl, who wrote in his 1997 Lower Cape May Regional high school yearbook that his dream was to own a pancake house.
Aimee is a special education teacher and her husband Karl — a stepdad to both Brandon and his 27-year-old brother John — worked in sales for a decade before becoming the chef behind the omelets, burgers, wraps and other menu items served at the restaurant.
“People were so warm, saying thank you for this, sending us videos,” Aimee said. “It’s just really overwhelming, in a good way.”