Have you ever felt overwhelmed at work? Nervous about speaking with your boss? Drained after a long day of meetings? Had a headache due to fluorescent lights and general noise? Even for people who love their jobs, the workplace can be challenging.
Now, imagine you have Autism.
Social interactions aren’t tiresome, they can be impossible to navigate. Lights and noise aren’t mild irritants, they make you physically ill. This makes it hard to concentrate. It takes extra effort to remember small details, or adjust to new protocol. This extra effort is perceived as laziness, or inability to adapt.
There is nothing lazy or incompetent about processing information differently.
Unfortunately, the average workplace in America doesn’t allow much wiggle-room when it comes to information gathering and processing. Consequently, people with Autism–entirely capable of working–have a high unemployment rate. This excludes a highly intelligent and motivated percentage of the American workforce.
The Salt and Vinegar Syndicate is changing that.
Nicole Munkberg, a special education teacher, noticed the grim employment pattern for her students. She knew the problem wasn’t Autism, but the structure of the traditional workplace. With the help of her wife Annie, the Salt and Vinegar Syndicate was born; a company structured around the abilities of young adults with Autism [or other special education needs].
The Syndicate started as a seasoning company. The goal was to keep overhead low, and productivity high, in a way that complements the strengths of at-risk youth. Blending and bottling spices is repetitive and exact, done in a quiet space. Selling at Farmer’s Markets was an option for those who wanted the interaction, but not a requirement.
Over time it became clear that seasonings weren’t going to maintain the business long-term. So, they added pickled products to the mix, creating the perfect recipe for success. Similar to mixing spices, pickling is repetitive and exact. There is precise routine, but room for creativity. So many vegetables to pickle, so little time.
In addition to pickling, many facets of the business need tending. These include: procuring local vegetables and supplies, website maintenance, recipe testing, and more. Each task is divided among employees as determined by their current comfort level. They also work to push employees out of their comfort zones at a pace that leads to success instead of shut down.
A great success story is long-time Salt and Vinegar Syndicate OG: Isaiah “Red” Munkberg.
Red has been at the Salt and Vinegar Syndicate from the beginning. He’s now developing management skills necessary to train other employees. Red has experienced serious growth and confidence through his work. Specifically, an increase in social processing.
At first, he felt nervous to work with customers–as any teen might at their first job. He didn’t think he would ever work Farmer’s Markets. Now, he loves the opportunity to talk about their high-quality products. “He’s our best salesman,” Annie said, laughing and hugging Red.
This year, the Syndicate experienced a growth spurt. They now have the “dream problem” of every business owner: more demand than they can supply. After a well-timed rebrand, products began to sell out fast. They also began to receive requests for brine, all by itself.
[Brine–the pickling liquid–has many health benefits. It aids recovery by soothing muscle cramps. It stabilizes blood sugar, maintaining healthy gut bacteria. Many consider it the best kept health secret!]
Another Syndicate OG is Sharon Hatch. Sharon doesn’t have autism, but faces her own health challenges. Ambitious when it comes to long-term plans for the Syndicate, Sharon takes charge of planning and operating the markets. She’s attentive to detail and quality control. She taught me the dangers of air bubbles in pickling jars [spoiler alert: they will explode!].
The Munkberg’s have a vision for The Salt and Vinegar Syndicate: A large company entirely accommodating to the sensory and learning needs of Autistic or at-risk persons.
Don’t mistake this for a charity operating as a non-profit. It’s quite the opposite–without profit there would be no point. Disability accommodations are often seen as reluctant compromises made by companies because they “have to.” In reality, there is no “right” way to get work done. Accommodations allow for increased labor, productivity, and profit. Moreover, they include a section of the population previously excluded by outdated working conditions. Certainly, the Syndicate must be profitable, or they will go out of business.
Different management methods don’t mean a different bottom-line. By structuring the business around the employees, the Salt and Vinegar Syndicate saw profit from day one. Through proper growth management [seriously, the BEST problem ever!] they will continue to expand. More importantly, they will continue creating meaningful employment.
Gluten, Dairy, Soy, and Discrimination free.
If you’re interested in seasonings that pack serious flavor, you can find them here. I recommend “Salt City Bandito.” Seriously, I was dipping my finger in and licking, it was THAT good! If you aren’t in the market for seasoning, at least check out their hilarious product names.
Utah locals can find the pickled products at boutique shop, Oliver & Princess Natasha.They carry a great Bloody Mary line-up of products you might want to check out. Or, give them a follow on Instagram to keep up with their busy market schedule: @saltandvinegarslc. Orders can also be picked up at their kitchen in Salt Lake City.
I left the Salt and Vinegar Syndicate with an armful of goodies, but this post is in no way influenced by free stuff. [Trust me, it takes more than subpar pickles to buy me. Now GREAT pickles…that might do it.] I love their products and I love their business model. Therefore, all opinions are my own.
In fact, I love them so much I’ve created a winter salad recipe to come in November. Make sure and subscribe to my recipes to be in the loop!