Sam's Canterbury Cafe employs adults on the autism spectrum -- and serves good food, too

For The Baltimore Sun

When Michael and Jennifer Myers decided to open a restaurant, they had in mind serving the staff as much as the customers.

The couple were determined to find a workplace for their 24-year-old son, Sam, who is on the autism spectrum. With the help of the nonprofit group Itineris, they soon realized he could succeed in the hospitality industry.

And so, Sam's Canterbury Cafe was born.

The Myerses opened the Tuscany-Canterbury spot in February. Since then, Sam Myers keeps busy at the cheerful restaurant — which offers all-day breakfast, flat breads, weekend brunch and sandwiches — busing tables, stocking shelves and performing other duties.

"It's a great place for Sam to work," said Michael Myers, who is in the investment field.

He and his wife, a Montessori school teacher, hired a family friend, Elli Straus, as the general manager. There are 16 people on staff at Sam's Canterbury Cafe, six of whom are on the autism spectrum.

"The jobs are tailored to the abilities and desires of what they want to do," Myers said. "Our goal is to be a special place where adults with autism happen to work."

Scene & Decor Sam's Canterbury Cafe is painted in soft peach and gray hues, soothing to the employees and the diners. The whimsical art on the walls — created by clients of Itineris, which serves adults with autism spectrum disorder — is available for sale. We liked the friendly, neighborhood vibe, where students, residents and other visitors gather for coffee and a casual meal.

Appetizers The Greek salad ($9.95) is big enough share or to order as a main dish. The pretty plate is overflowing with a satisfying mix of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, fat Kalamata olives, feta cheese and pepperoncinis — all gently tossed with a tangy Greek vinaigrette. On our visit, the soup of the day was chicken noodle ($4.95, cup). It had a respectable amount of chicken, curly noodles and tender carrots but was too salty for our tastes.

Entrees The delicious California clubhouse chicken sandwich ($11.95) was bolstered with a crispy buttermilk chicken breast, bacon, mayonnaise, avocado, lettuce and tomato on sourdough bread. It came with rippled potato chips and a pickle slice. The Calvert flatbread ($8.95) was slathered with a nut-free pesto sauce and featured grilled veggies like tomatoes, green peppers and broccoli dotted with goat cheese. The combination was great, but the flimsy flat bread became overwhelmed by the ingredients.

Drinks Signature drinks include flavorful lattes, like Sam's original latte ($4 for 12 ounces) with hazelnut and vanilla, and teas, like the London Fog ($4, 12 ounces) with Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla. (Owner Michael Myer's grandfather, Israel Myers, founded Baltimore-based apparel maker London Fog in the early 20th century.) Other beverages include Maine Root sodas, Nantucket Nectars juices and hot chocolate.

Service Diners order at a counter, and staff members deliver the plates. They also clear the tables.

Dessert The baked goods aren't made in house, but the cafe is happy to heat them up for you. Our warm almond croissant ($2.95) was rich and buttery. A slice of apple crumb cake ($5.95) was also a treat.

Sam's Canterbury Cafe

Backstory: Owners Michael and Jennifer Myers wanted their son, Sam, 24, who is on the autism spectrum, to have a meaningful job after he graduated from high school. They originally thought about opening a small coffee shop until they discovered the former Chocolatea space in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood, where they decided to focus on a breakfast and lunch spot. The couple opened Sam's Canterbury Cafe, where Sam Myers is an employee, in February.

Signature dish: California Clubhouse Chicken

TVs: None

Where: 3811 Canterbury Road, Tuscany-Canterbury

Contact: 443-438-4545, samscanterburycafe.com

Open: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (with weekend brunch)

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Does not accept

Bottom line: While it's worthwhile to support the mission of providing work for ASD adults, Sam's is a likeable spot to grab coffee, breakfast and lunch.

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