By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
David Reed and Nathan Born have worked together for about six years, most recently mowing lawns. When Reed and his wife, Melanie, decided to open a restaurant, he knew he wanted Nathan and his brother, Chris, to be on the staff.
And he didn't care that they have been diagnosed with autism.
"I had experience doing home care in Oklahoma," Reed said. "Whatever I did, I knew I wanted to involve Nathan. I've been working with him for six years. I know his habits, and he's a phenomenal kid."
Nathan works the register at Smokin Wrapz, and his brother does food preparation. Both are working through Alternative Opportunities, which is assisting the brothers as they adjust to their new roles and duties.
All the employees are learning, actually: The restaurant, which soft-opened earlier this month at 807 S. Maiden Lane, will have its grand opening at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
The Reeds first thought about opening a soul food restaurant but couldn't find a good location. Then a few months ago, Melanie had the idea to open a place that specialized in wraps -- assorted entrees served sandwich style in a tortilla.
At about the same time, the Reeds discovered that a storefront on Maiden Lane was being vacated by Subway, which has located to a new building on Seventh Street.
"I knew the people at Subway pretty well," Reed said. "When I found out they were moving, I jumped in there and asked to be the first name on the list."
The restaurant's configuration worked best for the Reeds' idea. The wraps are made in front of customers with fresh ingredients.
What's different about their idea, Reed said, is that they use smoked meats in the wraps. Customers can order chicken, pulled pork, brisket and more, along with a variety of dressings, toppings and flavored tortillas. Customers can also order baked potatoes loaded with their choice of meat and toppings.
Reed said the wraps are lighter and more healthy, but also more flavorful, because of the lack of bread.
"A wrap is light, not as filling and concentrates more on the meat," Reed said. "You're getting more of the meat instead of getting a lot of bread. It's something different."
One of those toppings is a homemade salsa that Reed has perfected. He calls it Uncle Dave's Salsa, and he said he has perfected the recipe to the point where a local restaurant offered to buy it.
The Reeds are fans of wraps when eating at home and got the idea from that. They have tried putting all sorts of foods in tortillas.
"I never thought to try brisket with salsa, but I love it now," Reed said. Melanie Reed said she hasn't done the math, but there must be hundreds of flavor combinations available for diners. The Reeds feel that the concept is solid enough that, if it's successful, it could become a franchise.
"It's a healthy alternative, and we've always been passionate about cooking," Melanie Reed said. "We'll start out small, but we want this to grow to a franchise."
The restaurant is open for breakfast and hopes to expand into a location with a drive-through one day. They offer 6-foot party wraps and potatoes and plan to add beef ribs and chicken wings to the menu.
Working it out
In addition to blazing a trail with food offerings, the restaurant is also setting a trend for assisting clients of Alternative Opportunities. Sherri Crismon, a job developer with the company, works right by Nathan Born's side, helping him get the hang of working the register, making change and thanking customers.
Though she's worked with several cooperative companies, she's never seen a situation as hands-on as Nathan Born's, she said.
"This is very rare, to have a job this specific," Crismon said. "I'm here until he's able to do this on his own, then I'll be on hand for support."
Reed had no doubts that Nathan Born could tackle the job. As they mowed lawns together, Reed learned about some of his talents -- as well as some of his brother's.
"He is phenomenal with math, so I knew I wanted to try him on cashier," Reed said. "Once he's trained to do something, he gets it done really fast. He helps me out, and he's always positive and happy."
Through Alternative Opportunities, the Born brothers received enough training to get behind the counter and work alongside the rest of the staff. Hiring the brothers is just one of the many things that has come together suddenly for the Reeds, who say they are blessed to have opened the new restaurant.
"The wraps idea was a dream the Lord gave to (Melanie)," Reed said.
Uncle Dave's Salsa base
While Reed keeps his favorite spices secret, he shared the base of his salsa that can be spiced to your preference. The salsa works great with chips, in wraps or on sandwiches.
1 bushel cilantro
1 cup garlic
Either finely chop or blend all the ingredients. Place in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then chill. Serve after refrigeration.