A Restaurant With An Autism-Friendly Sensory Room Is Opening In New Jersey

Laura and Tony Rivoli had a restaurant but in 2016, Rivoli’s Restaurant was closed. Now they are in Toms River and are opening a new restaurant including a sensory room for autistic children.

The restaurant first opened its doors on October 15 and it is slated to have the sensory room by mid-November. That room will include bubble machines, beanbag chairs, cushioned crash pads and sensory games on the walls. The goal of the sensory room is to make it possible for individuals with sensory issues to enjoy the visit. The sensory room will also have its own entrance and exit to separate it from the main restaurant.

A member of the Rivoli family, Monica Hmielewski had the inspiration for the room. Her son, Chase, wandered from the area into a side room of the restaurant that was for private events. The new sensory room will be known as ‘Chase’s Friends Zone’.

“It’s just a community we didn’t think we were going to be a part of, but we’ve embraced it and we wanted to do something,” Hmielewski told NJ Advance Media. “We find it very hard sometimes, and we understand, it’s hard sometimes going out to eat and doing things that typical families are able to do without even thinking about it.”

KultureCity, an autism nonprofit organization worked with Hmielewski to ensure that the room came together nicely. The group is also going to certify any servers that will be working in the room. Individuals with special needs are slated to be hired for busing the tables and a fund administered by a nonprofit organization will receive 20% of the proceeds. The Asbury Park Press reported that the nonprofit was likely to be Hometown Heroes of Toms River.

Special events are also planned to be held in the room, such as bingo nights, paint parties and appearances by Jammin Jen, a music therapist that was featured on the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

“I’ve talked to many people who haven’t been out to eat for years,” Hmielewski said. “People are literally stopping me now to say, ‘I can’t thank you enough.’”

Rivoli’s Restaurant was a popular location for the family but it closed in 2016 after being in business for almost 30 years. The new restaurant is located at the old Toms River Alehouse. Rivoli’s Chill and Grill in Howell is also owned by the family.

“We’ve always had in our mind coming back to Toms River. It was always something we wanted to do. We grew up in Toms River, we went to school in Toms River,” Hmielewski said. “For us to be back in Toms River and be able to bring all of the community back together and do events and fundraisers on top of bringing a sensory dining room… we’re thrilled. I never thought it was going to get this big by something I just thought of.”

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