FALLS CHURCH, Va. — A retired optometrist started an ice cream shop in Falls Church to give adults with special needs opportunities to thrive -- and the return on her investment is priceless.
Jake's Ice Cream opened in Falls Church in August 2021, but it's been an idea years in the making.
“I happen to have a 29-year old-nephew who has cerebral palsy and his name is Jake and that's what the ice cream parlor is named after," owner Robin Rinearson said. “Jake was working for a company for about eight years, and when COVID hit, the company let the special needs people go and not the rest of their crew, which angered me, to say the least."
Rinearson had spent decades as a pediatric optometrist, often working with people with special needs, head injuries or other disabilities.
When she started Jake's, she decided to hire some of her former -- and current -- patients.
“I love this place a lot," employee Leanna Okada said. "It fits me well because people are just like me.”
The real treat goes beyond the flavors -- it's the joy Rinearson's employees get from putting in a day's work.
“I think my favorite part is meeting the customers and seeing kids," employee Meghan Muskett said.
Others signed on to help, too, when they found out the mission.
“I have a brother with a very severe intellectual disability," employee Andrew Reese said. "And for people with intellectual disabilities, the jobs are very few and far between. And in our society, it's the job that really gives you a sense of purpose.”
That's what's really cooking at Jake's -- sweet, sweet purpose.
"My differently-abled staff is the most reliable. They practically never miss a day of work. They're practically never late. They're always happy to be here; they're enthusiastic," Rinearson said. "And even though there can be a steep learning curve of how to do things because these are all skills that none of them had before they started here, once they learn how to do stuff, they are very consistent."
And, she said they really live out the shop's motto -- made with pride by loving hands.
“Every time I come to work, I get so excited, I’m so happy," Okada said.
Rinearson said at the moment, they have about 30 employees and are open six days a week.
Jake's also makes cake pops and cakes, often producing specialty products for different holidays.