Foodstuffs: A Bakery Where Everyone Is Included

Jun 18, 2015

If a bakery does its work right, there will be something for every customer. Katie Johnson, the owner of From Scratch Baking Company in Wolfeboro, shows off her offerings: cases of peanut butter brownies, red velvet cupcakes, and salted chocolate cookies. 

"For breakfast stuff," Johnson continues, "we have different kinds of scones, banana bread, muffins, cookies, we make a lot of stuff that’s gluten free or vegan. There’s a lot of different ways for people to eat – you know it’s nice to go into a place and know that you can eat something and not have it affect you.

"I like to make everyone feel invited," she says. "I hate the feeling of someone feeling like they’re on the outside. I never want people to feel like that."

Johnson isn’t just talking about people trying not to eat gluten or animal products. She started this company in part to employ individuals with disabilities – in particular, a woman named Kristin Tower - her sister - who has Down syndrome. 

The bakery, Johnson explains, was "this vision of a place where Krissy could have a job – not just Krissy but other people like Krissy, who have lots of gifts and talents but have a hard time being seen for those. And I wanted her to be able to work comfortably and be appreciated, because having a job and knowing that you’re appreciated are two huge things."

Hence the bakery, which opened June 1st after about a year of planning and a crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly $34,000. Johnson is a trained pastry chef, and Tower, her sister, loves the kitchen as well, as she explains in the bakery’s Indiegogo fundraising video. 

For individuals like Tower, there often isn’t a whole lot to like when it comes to finding a job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 2014 was 12.5 percent – and that was down from the previous year. Richard Cohen, executive director of the Disability Rights Center, says a handful of large employers, like Walgreens and Marriott hotels, make an effort to hire and train individuals with disabilities, but small-to-medium sized companies often don’t – sometimes because there hasn’t been enough social service support, sometimes because employers feel like they won’t be able to successfully accommodate the worker and stay productive. 

"Instead of maybe a person with a significant disability having to do eight different things, you customize it so they may be only doing two of those things," Cohen explains. "And you can do that without necessarily losing productivity or hurting the bottom line."

Katie Johnson, owner of From Scratch Baking Company in Wolfeboro.
Credit Brady Carlson / NHPR

From Scratch makes a number of accommodations for its workers, which includes several people with developmental disabilities. Katie Johnson says they build more time into each step of the pastry process – planning, training and baking. And employees keep tabs on each other; one who’s serving customers might head back to the kitchen to help another scoop out cookie dough. Or a baker might go to the counter to make change.

Johnson says it does take some extra effort to make this approach work – but it’s worth it. "When you give someone a job who hasn’t really had one, there is an element of pride in that that creates this drive to do the best that you possibly could all the time," she says. "And that makes for a great employee. Initially you have to figure things out differently than you would, but the result is a dependable, trustworthy, really motivated and awesome employee. And who doesn’t want that?"

In other words, Johnson sees this model as good business - a workplace where employees can use their individual strengths, get help when they need it and don’t have to keep to a breakneck pace. She says a  worker of any ability level would appreciate that.

"We are definitely a fast paced world," she says. "It’s good when you come in here, people feel a sense of ok, I’m going to slow down for a minute. This is good, it’s nice." Then she spots a pair of women walking up the ramp and towards the front door. "We’re having some folks come in now, I think." 

And with that, Katie Johnson is off, making sure everyone who stands on either side of her bakery's counter feels welcome.