Building empathy and inclusion into a business model. Two events converged at once to convince Jeff Aeder to launch a new restaurant late last year. The 1,200-square-foot space next to his nearly 6-year-old kosher barbecue spot, Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, became available. And his niece, who is intellectually disabled, was turning 21 and looking for a job. 

His goal was to find a way to let his niece and others like her find gainful employment, says Aeder: “So they can be engaged, be part of the community and feel valued.”

Milt’s Extra Innings, a baseball-themed sandwich shop staffed almost entirely by intellectually disabled adults, was born. The not-for-profit restaurant, located near Wrigley Field in Chicago, works with a nonprofit organization that trains employees and matches them with jobs in the restaurant.

“I’m definitely a capitalist,” Aeder says. “I’m a real estate investor.” For him, though, that meant tweaking and finding a business model that worked for this specific segment of the workforce. “You can find a way to make the world more inclusive to people who don’t have the opportunities.”

As Milt’s has evolved, the focus  has shifted from a menu of prepared foods and deli sandwiches to its catering business, Aeder says. “If you have six people run in and want sandwiches right away, our staff is going to be overwhelmed,” he says. “We have found that catering is the best business for us to grow.”