(Dis)abilities + Work + Beaverton = No Problem! Two new faces give great service at Panera Bread

By Michael Shareshian

Friendly customer service seems to be a relic of a bygone era. As digital communications play an ever-increasing role in our everyday interactions, people helping people occurs less and less. Panera Bread at Cedar Hills Crossing does things differently. Luke Arnold and Katie Shipley do too.

Luke, a graduate of the Beaverton Community Transition Program and Katie, a soon-to-be alum, are just two of the friendly faces serving Panera’s loyal customers. While both Katie and Luke experience intellectual/developmental disabilities, that does not stop them from providing a service that has gone the way of the dinosaurs: Table bussing!

Because Panera believes their guests deserve an all-inclusive dining experience, they have done away with the self-service bus tubs you find almost everywhere nowadays. Instead, Luke and Katie happily monitor the dining room for dishes that can be cleared. While, “May I take your plate?” may as well be on an oldies station where Frank Sinatra can be heard, at Panera this tradition of customer-first dining proudly lives on.

Michael Shareshian, an Employment Specialist with Dirkse Counseling and Consulting, Inc. had the easy job. Michael, a former bus boy with a bow-tie and a decade-plus employee of The Stone Terrace by John Henry’s in NJ, knew that Luke and Katie had what it takes to work in the hospitality industry. Luke, a gentleman with food service experience, and Katie, a young woman with a dream to work in a restaurant like family members, are incredibly excited to be working in the community. As Katie regularly proclaims, “I like helping people!”  Michael approached Panera General Manager Doug Smith with the résumés of both.

Luke and Katie are leading productive lives as employed, upstanding members of our society.  Dirkse CC, working in conjunction with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Eric Stone, were able to bridge the gap between disabilities and employment. Thanks to values like community and inclusion that Mr. Smith and Panera believe in, Luke and Katie earn real paychecks, meet a business need, and have fun doing it.

For more information on inclusion in the workforce, please contact Cindy Bahl, Business Development Manager: 503-258-7715 or cindy@dirksecc.com.