Owners' son thrives at Pizza Baker

Inside the Pizza Baker establishment in downtown Midland, there’s an aroma of warm sourdough and an instant feeling of family and hard work. Owners Jim and Janet Baker buzz around filling orders, behind the counters and in front of the wood-fired hearth where the pizzas bake to perfection in a couple of minutes. 

The Baker Family includes Jim and Janet's 26 year-old son, Jameson. The Bakers, especially Jameson, know many customers by their first names. He can typically also recall their favorite pizza when they’re walking through the doors – or sooner.
Janet, Jameson, & Jim Baker
On this day, Jameson, who has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, has spotted a regular customer crossing Main Street heading toward their restaurant. Already he has started creating the customer’s favorite pizza. “I enjoy doing what I do,” says Jameson, who has been working in the family business since the Bakers started a mobile wood oven pizza business in 2014. “He has many people’s names memorized and what they order. Often, if Jameson isn’t here, people ask for him or if I can’t remember their order, I ask Jameson,” says Janet.

Jameson thrives on knowing he has a work routine, people who count on him, and a strong support system. He fills his day with work and exercise. He has goals to move out and live on his own.

 “I have a routine before I come to work. I work here four days a week,” he says. “Working helps him be more independent,” Janet says. “He’s really learning life skills, and how to be on his own,” she continues. Jim and Janet have a mission to help Jameson and others with disabilities by offering work at the Pizza Baker. Jim says he has four employees including Jameson who have disabilities, “Some stay for a little while, others have gone to pursue other things.”

Jameson’s duties while on the job include taking orders, grabbing wood from down in the basement to place in the oven, setting up, cleaning, and “doing whatever we ask of him,” says Janet. “We rely a lot on him.”
Jameson Baker puts the final touches on a pizza.

Pizza Baker opens 
In August 2019, the family opened the downtown restaurant after their wood-fired sourdough pizzas gained in popularity at the Saginaw Farmers Market and the Larkin Beer Garden. “It wasn’t something we planned on doing, but here we are. Jameson was just doing so well,” says Jim.

Jameson is both social and friendly, and thrives on talking with and meeting customers. He is loving and kind and has learned many new skills by working alongside his parents in the business, notes Janet. “He is doing things we never thought he would be doing. He has far exceeded any expectations we ever dreamed,” she says.

Jameson, who also pitches in at home by vacuuming, doing laundry and helping with the dishes, says he doesn't get stressed out when there are a lot of customers and pizzas are in high demand. “I do what I have to do,” he says.

Jim and Janet both say their mission as business owners is to be able to offer jobs to those with disabilities. When the family saw what Jameson was capable of doing during the years of owning the mobile business, it became more clear. Jameson’s talents started to flourish. 

“He can do anything we ask him to. He’s even started to cut the pizzas. We never thought he'd be able to handle the tool, but he’s developed a new skill [of cutting the pizzas]. He’s always willing to learn,” Janet says.
"He can do anything we ask him to."
Jameson attended Midland High School for five years and earned a certificate of completion. He participated in high school track and cross country, earning a MHS varsity letter and an honorary varsity letter in basketball. He’s also won several gold medals while participating in the Special Olympics.

Learning Life and Work Skills
Michelle Bahr, director of Special Education at the Midland Educational Services Agency (ESA), says Jameson and other students through the age of 26 with disabilities have many opportunities in the county. Students can learn life skills by going to school in classrooms that are specially laid out, and also have opportunities to work for various businesses in the community, such as Pizza Baker.

Bahr says the ESA’s post secondary program allows youth opportunities such as going to a 4-year university, a 2-year community college or trade school or it can mean studying full or part-time, living at school or commuting from home. Those disabled students who show an interest and qualify to work for a local business can do so through many businesses/work sites who partner with the ESA.

“There are a variety of businesses looking for those who can learn those job skills. It really runs the gamut from assisted living, Family Fare, offices, hotels and restaurants. There are various places around town,” she says.

Students are accompanied by a job coach assigned by the ESA and learn through those paraeducators how to perform the job tasks. Once the student can successfully perform those duties on their own, the job coach would no longer be needed. “For example, if they’re working at a grocery store, the job coach would teach them how to greet a customer, and go through each task and stay with the student.”

One of Jameson's jobs is to clean tables.
While enrolled in the post secondary program at the ESA, students learn life skills like cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Bahr says classrooms are set up like a typical home so that students can learn hands-on how to get through their daily chores and routines. 

A small coffee shop is set up inside the ESA building where students with disabilities run the business and also work as office aids. “They’re the employees. They take orders, make the coffee, clean up. Or file, shred paper, anything we ask them to do,” she says. “It’s real world, life experience.” 

Bahr says parents of disabled students are grateful to have a variety of resources available in their community, “To have your child gainfully employed, being social and engaged, that’s wonderful. It feels so good.” And Bahr says of Jameson and Pizza Baker, “It’s a happy and feel good place. Look at all he’s doing.” Jameson’s parents echo her sentiment. “Our eyes have really opened as parents to what he can do. We are not done.”


Read more articles by Erika M. Hirschman.

A veteran freelance writer and former reporter with The Midland Daily News, Erika has covered a wide array of topics in and around Midland and Saginaw counties. She’s an award winning reporter, and holds a journalism degree from the University of Detroit-Mercy/Marygrove College. When Erika is not writing, she enjoys dancing in her kitchen with her two dogs and family. She loves to read, cook, travel and go to concerts. She’s lived in Saginaw County for 26 years.