Who The Folk?! Tasya Rosenfeld Kelen

What a difference a change of scenery makes. Tasya Rosenfeld Kelen went from nearly shutting down Isadore Nut Co. to thriving in a new setting with new employees. This week we kick off Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month with Tasya talking about becoming an inclusive hiring company as she moved her production to Jewish Housing and Programming’s commercial kitchen. Tasya also talks about the evolution that has come from that decision, and how the company now stands for something more than a healthy, delicious snack, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview (which you are really going to want to hear), please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. Check out the show page where you can catch up on previous episodes. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!

You’re a returning Who The Folk?! guest from our pre-podcast days. But one of the things that’s changed from the last time we talked is where you’re producing the product, and how you have evolved, your business model some. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about those two things?

Since we last connected, we moved our production facility to J-HAP, which stands for Jewish Housing and Programming. It’s in Golden Valley, and they have a commercial kitchen, and I didn’t even know that I was looking for a new commercial kitchen. I actually was starting to feel like things were not going in the direction I wanted them to go. And I wasn’t feeling that the longevity was going to be there. Other companies were growing up around us and able to scale faster and I felt like we’re just not able to play in this field in an effective way and I was pretty much ready to close up shop at the end of 2018 after holiday season. But everything changed in August of 2018 when I was invited to tour this almost finished commercial kitchen in a space that was run by J-HAP called Cornerstone Creek apartments, which is independent living for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And when I got a tour of this gleaming, brand new kitchen, I was told that there’s an opportunity to work with some of the tenants of Cornerstone Creek. And from that moment on, like the floodgates opened to my brain and I realized we had the potential to be so much more than just a nut company.

You’ve had a little more than a year now in the space where you are working with and employing people who have disabilities as your employees who are doing the work that any “able-bodied” or “able-minded” person could do. Why was after seeing the space and learning that you could work with the people who are residents of Cornerstone Creek, why was that so important for you and why do you think he gave you such revitalization to the company?

Oh, I was so excited. The potential to work with a group of people who are completely overlooked in mainstream employment. It wasn’t even on my radar honestly, to work with people with disabilities. But once I was told that this was an opportunity, it made me feel like we could have such a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose to our company, that we could stand for something so much more than just a healthy delicious snack. And if that meant that we could help employees help draw awareness to the importance of employing people with different abilities with different disabilities, that that was going to be a game-changer for me.

Did you have to alter anything to accommodate the employees in the way you produce?

Yes and no and yes. We have these craft bags (that the nuts go into). You fill the bags, you close the bags, and then we have these really pretty paper labels that are stickers, and you have to apply them. And there’s a little bit of an art form to how you have to apply them. And they have to be centered, and they have to be smoothed out so there are no bubbles. And the paper has to stick to that crafting bag. And what I realized, was that people with a dexterity challenge, they’re going to have a hard time putting that label on. And one of the things that’s held us back has been shelf life, just having these fussier bags. And so I’d always wanted to be in a pre-printed bag, it was so exciting. Because what I realized was like, ‘Oh my God, if we had pre-printed bags, then Amy could be successful all by herself. There wouldn’t be a second person who had to come up and put that label on for them.’ That’s where we’re at. We have two people doing the job for one person because we want Amy to be a success. And we’re going to go to pre-printed bags. We’re so fortunate that we’ve learned that this modification is only going to make our products so much better. Because we’re going to be able to tell the story of the goodness inside and the goodness that we’re trying to do and the impact we’re trying to have on the world.

(Editor’s note: About 20 minutes into the podcast, Tasya meant to reference Lori Leder-Fogel, and referenced the wrong name. She apologizes for the error.)


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