Ben Stavely making pizza dough at Tag Team Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Marianna Judy

The aroma of freshly baking pizzas fills my kitchen. The pies are from a kit purchased at Tag Team Kitchen, which opened in Kensington in July. Only 15 minutes earlier, I had slathered their pizza sauce (San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, dried thyme and basil, garlic powder) on two 12-inch, pre-baked pizza crusts (one sourdough, one whole wheat) and topped them with a blend of shredded mozzarella, Asiago and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. After baking for about 10 minutes directly on the rack of a 400-degree oven, they emerged crisp, golden-crusted and bubbling brown.

Marianna Judy, a Silver Spring resident and longtime hobby baker, owns Tag Team Kitchen, where she sells pre-baked pizza crusts, pizza sauce and shredded cheese separately or as kits. She works alongside her 31-year-old son, Ben Stavely, who has autism. He particularly enjoys hand-stretching the dough and forming crusts.

Pre-baked crusts, pizza sauce and shredded cheese are sold separately or as kits. Photo by Lindsey Max

Cooking had previously helped Judy de-stress from her job teaching general and choral music for Montgomery County Public Schools in elementary and middle school, which she left in 2009 to be a full-time caregiver for Ben and other family members. Then it became an avenue for dealing with a challenge many parents of grown children with autism face: finding something to give Ben, who does well with reading and writing but for whom verbal communication isn’t a strong suit, a sense of accomplishment and purpose. “It became apparent he wouldn’t be able to get a job and keep one,” Judy says. “If a manager understands him and leaves, the process has to start all over again. Their hours get cut and they spend more time not working than working.”

For inspiration, Judy—and Ben—volunteered at Red Wiggler Community Farm in Germantown, a nonprofit certified organic farm where founder Woody Woodroof employs people with and without developmental disabilities. “[Woodroof] was impacting a small number of people, but making a big difference in their lives,” Judy says. That resonated with her, so she took passions she and Ben shared—baking and pizza—and started selling crusts at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market and the Kensington Farmers’ Market in 2016 (she and Ben still sell the crusts at markets, along with kits). It was a cottage business they could start at home and then grow. In 2017, she had added less shelf-stable items (tomato sauce and cheese) to her fare and so had to move to a regulated commercial kitchen. She left that shared space in Rockville to find her own storefront in order to fulfill a mission to employ people of varying abilities. One employee came from Rockville’s Sunflower Bakery, which provides job training to adults with learning differences.

Marianna Judy at the Kensington Farmers’ Market. Photo by Lindsey Max

“Tag Team” has two meanings. Rather than using verbal communication, Judy uses body language to perform a step in the baking process in a way that Ben can infer what the next step is and perform it. “Ben’s a smart young man, constantly solving problems and streamlining his work. He just does it without conversation,” Judy says. Also, her company tag teams with customers because its products require final preparation at home.

Crusts come in 8-inch ($4.50) and 12- inch ($7) diameters and many iterations, including 100% white wheat, 100% whole wheat, 50 white/50 whole wheat, 50/50 with herbs, and Parmesan garlic. Wheat-alternative crusts include brown rice and oat; almond and cassava; and brown rice and buckwheat. Pizza kits with sauce and cheese range from $12 to $24.

Tag Team Kitchen, 10453 Metropolitan Ave., Kensington, tagteamkitchen.com