This is a post that has been in the making since last March, at this point I could probably write a book about how special the people are that work at Level 257. I tried my best to capture just how special they are to my family.
Griffin’s birthday dinner, it was Nom, Nom good! That huge glass of wine wasn’t bad either!
Griffin’s had a fever for as long as I can remember. It came on so quickly and hasn’t gone away. Then Tom and I got the fever the beginning of this year. Yes, now we all have Pac-Man fever. Our temperatures were at the highest when we discovered that a Pac-Man inspired restaurant and arcade was being built just outside of Chicago. If you’ve ever had a conversation with our son Griffin, you soon discover how much he LOVES Pac-man and many other retro video games. We have even dressed as the Pac-Family for Halloween. So when we started hearing about the restaurant I decided to reach out to the marketing manager, Natalie, to see if we could be part of the grand opening. Part of my letter read:
“I’m writing on behalf of my 11 year old son, Griffin. He is on the Autism spectrum with an Aspergers diagnosis. With this comes passion for many things including Pac-man and other classic arcade games. We just found out about the Pac-man inspired restaurant opening next month in Schaumburg, IL and wanted to know if there was any way he could be part of the grand opening. He is a great kid and I know that we will be visiting often, but we would like to surprise him with his first visit. He has actually talked about having his own Pac-man restaurant and he strives to be a video game designer when he grows up.”
I immediately received a reply from the restaurant’s marketing manager, Natalie saying that although they weren’t having an official grand opening they would love to make Griffin a VIP when he came for his first visit.
We planned to take him for his birthday in April. Admittedly, it was tough to keep it secret from Griffin for so long. At one point my mom actually slipped but I was able to cover. Not being able to take it any longer we moved up the surprise visit to the end of March.
This is video we shot of the big surprise!
When they said VIP, they meant it! I had asked if there was any way we could have an earlier reservation to avoid it being too crowded and noisy for Griffin, and they happily took care of it. There was even a surprise visit from Pac-Man himself and they had special Pac-Man treats just for Griffin. But the most special moment for me was when David, Executive Vice President of Namco, came over and spent time talking to Griffin about all things Pac-Man. To see Griffin talking to someone in the industry was so special and Griffin surprised David with just how much he knew about Pac-Man.
Griffin and The Pacster!
After that first visit we knew we had found a home away from home. Each time we went back we were always greeted with a smile, and the staff would go out of their way to make sure Griffin felt special and had a great time. I really can’t explain how much the care and attention meant to us. The three of us are just so grateful every time we get to visit Level 257.
On our way to Pac-Man’s Birthday Party
Fast forward to May of this year, where we were able to attend the 35th Anniversary/Birthday of the creation of Pac-Man. It was really exciting and Griffin got to meet the lead creator of the game, Professor Toru Iwatoni. He was so in his element once again and he even decided to wear his Pac-Man Jr costume. He was almost as popular as Pac-Man himself that night! Griffin was able to meet more people in the industry, including a game designer named Ben from Namco. Ben encouraged us to email him so he could stay connected and has since suggested video game design books and programs for Griffin to look into. He also shared with me that he has family members that are also on the autism spectrum.
Griffin meeting Professor Toru Iwatoni while wearing his Pac-Man Jr costume. If you’ve seen the movie “Pixels” you’ll recognize that there is a similar scene where the Professor’s character has a similar interaction with Pac-Man.
We continue to visit Level 257, it’s become a great reward for Griffin to work towards. Each time we go my heart is filled with love and appreciation for the staff, especially Natalie and David. I always send them an email letting them know we’re coming in hopes that we can see them. This last visit David stayed late just so he could visit with Griffin. I was once again overcome with emotion and non-eloquently tried to tell him how much it all meant to me. David just smiled and told me to stop it, that it was nothing. He wanted to make sure he got to visit with us since he wasn’t able to the last time we’d been there.
With permission from both Natalie and David I wanted to share these emails they sent me. It gives you insight into how great they are. I received these email responses from them after we had planned on going for a visit but couldn’t because Griffin had been having a hard time. In my email explaining this, I added that I never wanted either of them to feel obligated to come by if they couldn’t, especially since we try to go as often as we can.
This is what David wrote:
“We don’t feel “obligated” – honestly, Griffin has been a special part of our working on Level 257, and I feel like he’s now a part of our project development! We’ve always enjoyed speaking with him, and (admittedly on a selfish level), Griffin reminds me of WHY we do the things we do; his honest and sincere appreciation makes all the work and effort worthwhile! Griffin is a great guy (and he has some pretty special parents!)”
Griffin and his buddy David
Natalie wrote :
“Selfishly, I’m glad that I didn’t miss you guys! David and I just adore Griffin – he is one of the family here! I feel incredibly blessed to have come to know Griffin, and you, and just love that he enjoys coming to 257 so much. So, to echo David, it’s never an ‘obligation’ for us.”
Griffin with the lovely Natalie
I want David, Natalie, and the entire staff of Level 257 to know that visiting the restaurant is so much more then a family outing. It’s become a reminder that people care and an opportunity for Griffin and us to connect with others. It’s proof that even though autism can be confusing there are people waiting with open arms to learn more about it, welcome you, and support you.