TOMS RIVER, N.J. — A Toms River mom and restaurant owner is creating something special for children with disabilities: a place where they can go out to eat and not feel overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds.
"We are creating AN environment where families are comfortable," said Monica Hmielewski, who owns Riv's Toms River Hub with her family, who have been in the business for over 30-years.
She's creating 'Chase's Friends Zone', a private room currently under construction within the restaurant, which will be outfitted with toys, bean bags and seven dining tables.
"It's a nice calm environment. We're gonna have very dim lighting. It's totally sound proof," she said.
The concept and name were inspired by her 6-year-old son.
"Chase was diagnosed with autism and one of the obstacles is going out to eat," she said.
And she’s taking it a step further. Much like at the bar where there are weekly or daily specials, this space will have its own calendar of events free to families, like music therapy or autism education events.
When the room is done in the next couple of months, you will be able to call and make a reservation.
Toms River teachers will be invited on opening day, and 20% of all food sales will be donated to help families with autism.
And there will also be opportunities for adults with autism.
"We're hiring employees that are also on the spectrum," she said.