John Bullard working hard at Rouses Supermarket in Orange Beach. He's worked at the store location for 22 years.

Rouses Supermarket in Orange Beach, Alabama.By John Mullen

September 14, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – John Bullard was a fixture and an icon pushing buggies for 22 years at a grocery store in Orange Beach. But when the store closed, John was not out of luck.

Word around town was Rouses Market, a chain based in Louisiana, would take over that space and is in there today. While Rouses was getting the new location in ship shape, John could be seen pushing buggies at the Rouses in Gulf Shores.

“When we first came in we saw John and talked with John and I asked him if he’d be interested in coming to work for Rouses,” Orange Beach Store Director Kenneth Jones said. “John said, sure, and he was all excited about it. I talked to his mom and got a little information from her and we brought him over to the Gulf Shores for training. Once we got him in everybody just fell in love with John. He was welcomed go the Rouses’ family. He’s a pleasure to have on the team.

“Customers, a lot of them thanked us for keeping him on.”

John has autism. He can recite sports scores and issues and teams. He can talk about all the political issues that are raging around the country. He’s also a voracious reader and has taken some college-level courses mostly in accounting because he’s great with numbers. In his free time, he helps out at his church’s food pantry and is a volunteer reader for WUWF’s Sightline program for the vision impaired.

When he’s not working hard he always has time to greet customers or help them find items in the store.

“Since we’ve transitioned into the Orange Beach store he’s just been Johnny-on-the-spot telling us everything about sports and politics,” Jones said. “He’s always just busy, busy. Walking, looking, learning. He can tell where just about anything is in the store if you need to know something.”

Rouses weekly special ad.John’s mom, Katie Aiken, said Rouses came in and immediately became part of the community.

“They have been very good to John,” Aiken said. “We were really delighted. Rouses talked with every single employee of the Orange Beach store when they knew they were buying it out. They offered an opportunity to work for Rouses to every employee at that store and we were delighted.”

Customers, she said, and many people she doesn’t even know but know John well, had an outpouring of thanks to Rouses for keeping John working.

“When John first started working at the Gulf Shores store I was praying big,” Aiken said. “On his first day there, I got an email from our friend Kim Ard who forwarded to me a Facebook post from somebody I didn’t even know. He had posted a picture of John saying how glad he was to see John from Orange Beach working at the Gulf Shores Rouses. Dozens of people had responded to that and commented on how delighted they were to see John working at the Rouses and to know he was going to be back in the Orange Beach store.”

He’s not the only special needs employee for Rouses’ two Pleasure Island stores nor is he the only one in the chain. In what is virtually a company policy, Rouses goes above and beyond to find and train special-needs employees to work. In Gulf Shores, Rouses has Jackie Boenig working hard for them there.

Salad bar at Rouses Supermarket in Orange Beach, Alabama.A recent story about an employee in the Baton Rouge Rouses reaching out to an autistic customer went viral nationwide including stories by CNN and the Washington Post. And led to a job offer.

Jordan Taylor was stocking orange juice when he noticed 17-year-old Jack Ryan Edwards watching him. After a while, he asked Jack Ryan if he’d like to help. Jack Ryan’s dad filmed the interaction saying “I’m watching a miracle in action.”

Jack Ryan’s sister, Delaney Edwards Alwosaibi, posted the video to social media and a nationwide story was born. Watch the video here.

“Jordan was a champion of inclusion that day,” Alwosaibi, a special education teacher, said. “He might not have known at the time but he was an advocate for our kids, for everyone who has a sibling, child or student with disability.”

Alwosiabi thanked Taylor by starting a Go Fund Me account to fund his college education and shortly the amount grew to more than $130,000 and he is making plans to attend Grambling. A local car dealer also gave Taylor a car to get him there.

Rouses offered Jack Ryan a part-time job at the store and his family is thinking about letting him try the job with some assistance.

Back in Orange Beach, Jones says the store is basking in the glow of an incredible first summer season.

“We’re gearing up now for the little transition remodel and we’re going to do a few more additions and we’re looking forward to having another great season next year,” Jones said. “We’re going to have all the bells and whistles like we do at the other Rouses.”

Same day delivery from Rouses in Orange Beach, Alabama.Those plans include adding a hot food bar and salad bar that has been popular in the Gulf Shores location.

“People really love the seafood department,” Jones said. “And the mochi bar and the mochi ice cream, creamy meets chewy. It’s done so well we’re putting it in just about every one of our stores.”

According to mochi ice cream is an invention of a Japanese-American woman with a rice outside and ice cream inside.

“It’s a little chewy, a little squishy, cool, creamy and so addictive,” according to the website.

Stop by, get a plate and stop in the lounge to enjoy it and talk sports and politics with John. And grab a mochi ball for dessert.