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Northcoast Corn Creations adds jobs training for students with special needs.


By Simon Husted, The News-Herald, 04/20/15


The founder of a Mentor-based school for students with special needs has launched a “philanthropic venture” to give his students a new opportunity for vocational and employment training.

That venture is a gourmet popcorn shop in Willoughby called Northcoast Corn Creations. Fred Frisco, president of the shop and president of Re-Education Services, a company that contracts with 30 local school districts to teach children with special needs, has been working on starting the business for the past half year.

In March, Northcoast Corn Creations began selling its 40 popcorn flavors online at www.northcoastcorn.com, he said. That includes its signature flavor, “Embracing Autism,” a rainbow-like mixture of banana, blue raspberry, blueberry and cherry flavored popcorn that is inspired by the internationally recognized Autism ribbon. 

The shop sells each of its flavors for $4.25 per bag of popcorn. The business also offers a variety of tin sizes and allows patrons to add a photo or design on them as well.

The shop employs a full-time operations manager and about 15 students from his school, all of whom are diagnosed with autism.

“As we increase sales and bring in sales, proceeds will go back into improving our product and employing more folks with special needs,” Frisco said.

Depending on their abilities, students are assigned to tasks like designing labels, assembling orders or bags, and hopefully someday designing their own popcorn flavors, Frisco said.

Right now, none of the students receive a wage, but he would like to change that as sales increase, and pay students based on productivity.

Frisco said students with special needs have a challenging time in the job market partly because of the stigma that they can’t compete in productivity against workers without a developmental disability. With the right training, however, a student of his can be a unique asset in a company’s workforce, he said. Another priority is teaching students with special needs the social skills needed to get through a job interview and market oneself as a good candidate.

The popcorn shop makes up one of many work sites his students ask to spend their school days at.

Frisco is also behind a similar philanthropic venture in Mentor to start a coffee shop just south of the Munson Road and Center Street intersection. Construction on that project is “on hold” for financial reasons, Frisco said.

Northcoast Corn Creations is filling two empty storefront spaces at 38765 Lake Shore Blvd., the former Jam’s Deli Stop and JavaJohn’s Coffee.

Right now, the space is mostly a kitchen occupying the deli’s square footage. Frisco said he is still working on scheduling fixed hours at the shop and deciding whether to establish a cafe area next door where JavaJohn’s once was.

He’s distributed his bags of popcorn to a few venues already, such as the IGA in Perry Township, Reider's Market in Concord Township and Mentor Family Foods. But he’d like to expand the sale of the gourmet popcorn to more distant locations, such as downtown Cleveland, so more distribution jobs can be created.

Frisco said he chose to launch a gourmet popcorn shop because “Popcorn is fun, it’s easy and it has its own individuality, too.” 

“No two kernels are alike and no two people are alike,” Frisco said. “They’re all unique in their own way and that kind of fits our home model of providing employability through something fun, something flavorful and something kids can get creative with.”

CORRECTION: Bags of Northcoast Corn Creations are sold at the IGA in Perry Township, Reider's Market in Concord Township and Mentor Family Foods. The story presviously stated it was available at Rider's Inn in Painesville city instead of Reider's Market.