Pleasant Grove school creates cafe to give students with autism workplace experience

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah – A Pleasant Grove school is giving students with autism real life work experience with a brand new cafe.

The Pantera Café just opened, and the student-operated restaurant specializes in Italian food.

This week’s menu featured lasagna, garlic bread and a fresh garden salad.

Teachers at Spectrum Academy say students with autism don't always get the training they need in order to get a job once they're finished with school. That’s why they decided to open a café to expand the students' real life work experience.

"We can talk about stuff and do stuff at school, but then the next step is in an actual workplace, and so we needed an interim place in which they could actually be like they're at a workplace, but they're still in a safe environment,” explained David Banner, an occupational preparation teacher at Spectrum Academy.

Pantera is the Italian word for panther, which is the school's mascot. The cafe serves Italian food made from scratch with all fresh ingredients.

“The kids make it all, and then they get to turn around and cook it, serve it up, send it out,” Banner said. “We do some waitering, things like that. They work the cash register, and then we also do marketing plans and we make commercials."

Right now, teachers are the main customers, but they're hoping to open the cafe to students next year.

While it’s just a restaurant for now, teachers plan to turn it into a class. They hope to expand the program and train students beyond graduation for at least five to six years.

"It’s really exciting to see these kids who wouldn't get this opportunity anywhere else, to be serving people and remembering orders, that was pretty awesome: They remembered all the drinks that we wanted,” said Kellie Hunsaker, a teacher at Spectrum Academy.