However, customers of the brand-new Cameron's Chocolates coffee and sweets shop on Fairfax Boulevard will find one other facet of the business that is truly special, too.
At least half of the shop's employee base is made up of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and they're doing an amazing job of running the place.
The Idea for Cameron's Chocolates
Cameron's Chocolates, located at 9639 Fairfax Blvd. near Fairfax Circle, is named after Cameron Graham. Cameron's parents, Ellen and Jim Graham, helped start the business for their daughter in order to give her a place where she could do what she loves—bake, and dip chocolates—and make a living for herself.
The Grahams realized Cameron's Chocolates could be a place that offered the same opportunity for others in the area just like their daughter, as well.
"So, our mission is to employ individuals with intellectual disabilities alongside those without disabilities, in a safe environment," said Ellen Graham.
Therefore, the shop has three program participants including Cameron, who work alongside a job coach and general manager Jennifer Stuckert.
Cameron, who has intellectual disabilities, went to high school locally and attended the Davis Training Center, attached to Marshall High School in Falls Church. The Davis Center provides job training assistance to students like Cameron and then sets them up with jobs in local partner businesses where they can work alongside able adults.
Through the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) district, the students can work in jobs like the laundry room of a hotel, a grocery store, a senior assisted living facility or preschool, and more, Ellen said.
The job Cameron was placed in was with a local catering company. It was there that her passion for cooking was born.
Ellen said Becky McDermott, who works with the culinary students in the Davis Center's program, was amazing for her daughter to work with.
"She is really something special," Ellen said. "She really sets high standards for the students, but it's good, and that's what they need. She really spends a lot of time helping each student reach their maximum potential."
However, when Cameron turned 22, she aged out of the FCPS system.
"When they reach age 22 they transition, meaning they're no longer eligible for training through FCPS," Ellen explained, so they have to start looking for their own employment.
Ellen and Jim then helped find their daughter a position with a place called Chilmark Chocolates in Martha's Vineyard, which employs individuals with intellectual disabilities with those without, doing things like baking and dipping chocolates.
Cameron thrived in the job, Ellen said. So, they started thinking about creating their own shop following Chilmark's model.
It took them a while to find a good location for the shop, but once they found the storefront in the Fairfax shopping center, they knew it was fate.
"Once the landlord heard about our mission [to employ individuals with intellectual disabilities]....he really wanted us in there. He's been so supportive," Ellen said.
On Oct. 1, Cameron's Chocolates opened its doors for business for the first time. Since then, they've been enjoying a soft opening and smoothing out any rough edges, but business is really moving along now, said Ellen and general manager Jennifer Stuckert.
"We already have many early orders for the holidays," Stuckert said.
Ellen said, they are currently hard at work preparing a giant order of 22 dozen Halloween cookies.
What Does Cameron's Chocolates Sell?
Walk through the front door of the shop, and one is greeted with the sights and smells of everything delicious—fresh-brewed coffee drinks, including their own blend which is made specifically for the shop in Charlottesville; hot teas; fruit smoothies; frozen yogurt; muffins; cookies; chocolates; and more.
In addition to selling individual treats like chocolates and cookies, the store can also prepare orders in gift boxes, such as chocolates by the pound, and cookies and muffins by the dozen. Stuckert and Ellen hope those will be popular for the upcoming holidays.
New customers are learning about the shop every day, Ellen said, and she is already starting to notice familiar faces that are coming back regularly now that they know about Cameron's Chocolates.
"It's been wonderful. Everyone in the community has been so nice," she said. "Everyone is really embracing our idea that 'everyone can work.'"
Stuckert, a recent culinary management graduate, said she couldn't have imagined a better first job right out of school.
"It's a really good fit for me," she said, describing how she saw the general manager position advertised at her school. "The mission is really what attracted me to the job. Plus, being a smaller shop, it was a good first job right out of school."
Cameron, naturally, is on cloud nine.
"I like baking, and making chocolate chips, and dipping chocolates," she said with a big smile. "I have fun. And my co-workers are nice."
Visit Cameron's Coffee and Chocolates seven days a week at 9639 Fairfax Blvd. in Fairfax City. Call 703-278-2627.
Visit the shop online through its website and Facebook page.
Have you been to Cameron's Chocolates yet? Tell us in the comments.
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