“Innovation in Creating Dignified Jobs for Special Needs Adults”

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Our Guest

Michael Kohler CEO & CO/Founder of Special Kneads & Treats in Gwienett Cty GA. A non-profit company dedicated to getting a FREE cake in the hand of any child who’s family cannot afford a cake on their child’s birthday. They believe that every child, woman, and elder should be celebrated.

Their second mission is to employ as many special-needs individuals whom have aged out of country supported programs. They believe that by giving them a job, they are also giving them purpose, self-esteem, value, and a paycheck that makes them feel valued.

Their company started from what they state is a “God-given vision” for a bakery that would employee special needs adults while simultaneously impact their community in a positive way by providing free birthday cakes. In just 3.5 short years their vision has grown from a 1,200-square foot space to a 2,600-square foot space which will allow them to increase their hiring of more special needs adults and get them off their 151- person waiting list.

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Hello and welcome to another Dr. Nilda Business Foresight Show episode. Today I have with me Michael Kohler and when you hear his story it’s really amazing. Him and his wife Tempa created this bakery and the name of it is Special Kneads. They’re co-founders and this bakery is catered to any child that cannot afford a cake. They ensure that each kid gets a cake. They’ve partnered with different companies and different nonprofits to be able to ensure that these children are serviced with cakes. Thank you for being here.

Thank you very much for having me.

I am so thrilled. I want to understand and I want you to share with the audience what your mission is because I think that’s most fascinating.

You pretty well summed up the mission. Our nonprofit mission is to try and ensure that any child in Gwinnett County, here where we’re located, that has a birthday and their family cannot afford a birthday cake get free cakes from us. We provide certificates to these entities that would then hand them to those in need. They are already handling that sector of the community. Then we try to personalize a 9 by 13 inch cake for their birthday so they can have a party or have enough cake to share with friends rather than a little small cake. It’s a fairly good-sized cake.

So, now the name of the company is Special Kneads?

Yes, Special Kneads and Treats Incorporated.

Special Kneads and Treats Incorporated ok. So, tell me, why Special Kneads?

Well it’s a play on words. The needs is spelled K-N-E-A-D-S like kneading dough or kneading muscles and things to that nature. The name actually came from my wife. She’s been a baker since she was 13. As we were talking about what should we do and how should we do it she kind of woke up one morning and said well we want to work with special needs. So, how about we use Special Needs and Treats and then it just kind of rolled around to the kneading dough portion. That kind of came to her overnight. We just ran with it.

That’s fantastic. So, she’s the baker you’re not the baker?

Yes ma’am. She’s the baker. She’s been doing it since she was 13. I won’t share her age. The cake decorator. She used to do this as a on the side job a lot of weddings and birthdays and things like that. She just utilized her God-given skills and talents to pretty much be the brain child. I’m more of the corporate side. I come from a corporate background. I’ve been in operations management and logistics so I’m more of the numbers guy. I do the business side of things and she does the creative day-to-day real talent side of the job.

That’s fantastic. I want you to tell me a little bit about your staff because the staff is really where it all comes together. To me that was my attraction to Special Kneads.

Currently we have 16 special needs adults with various different abilities. We call them abilities rather than disabilities. We have 16 special needs that are paid. We have 8now that volunteer. I have currently 151 on a waiting list.

So, now you have these kids on this waiting list. When do you think you can get them on because I know you just moved to a new facility?


I think you almost tripled your space, right?

Yeah, we came from 1,700 square feet. We now have over 12,000 square feet. Our kitchen was 300 square feet. Now the kitchen is 2,600 square feet. And in answer to your question we’re doing a first-come first-serve. It doesn’t matter what the special need is. We try and work with everyone and we’re up to eight volunteers because just this last week we brought in four more special needs off the waitlist. This coming week we’re making about ten more phone calls. We’re doing batches of ten calls. Then interviews and trying to find placement and opportunities with schedules. Our goal is over the next few months to at least reduce the list by twenty or thirty. I wish I could hire them all but well it takes time.

It takes time and I see that you live on that mission because just moving from the space that you had to this space I see you’re making the accommodations. Which is excellent. So, tell me who are some of the people that you have partnered with?

Okay. We partner up with foster care systems. We also partner up with local food cooperatives, partnership against domestic violence, Wellspring and Street Race to help victims of human trafficking. We’ve partnered with some local senior groups that are helping homebound seniors so it really runs the gamut. But we’re just scratching the surface.

Okay. With these partnerships, what do the partnerships bring to the table? How are you making those partnerships work because they’re not, as I see, all children?


They’re not all children centered so tell me a little bit about that.

It started out to be solely child based. Which is why we started with the foster care program and the local food cooperatives just to give those certificates so they could get those cakes. But, then following our hearts and our lead by God orphans are not just Children. Orphans are also some elderly who maybe their families no longer around or different things like that. But then also just some of the groups like human trafficking we didn’t know it was such a big issue here in the Atlanta area and it’s huge. What we do there is it’s not necessarily a birthday cake for a child it could be a celebration cake for the rescue of a woman or her graduation out of the program back into the mainstream. So, we just try and do what we can with the talent that my wife was God gifted with. To just share a special sweet treat that sometimes I mean it can mean a world of a difference.

The focus is really the celebration it’s not even about the cake. It is about the celebration so you’re kind of bringing them to life and recognizing them as an individual. That’s fascinating and you’re doing that in so many different ways. I love that you’re doing this because I see this as such a need. This concept would have never come to me but it came to you. I mean you’ve taken the talent that God has given you and you’ve really been able to grow it. This reminds me of when the Bible talks about who the person that gave one talent to and the other one. So, you’re taking your talent and you double tripled it and you’ve really expanded it. That’s impressive. So, you haven’t really honed into just the one thing?

Correct. It would have been so easy to just kind of stop where we were with that small location because we were making a pretty big impact. But when you pretty much throw yourself out there and tell God anything any place anywhere you better be ready for anything because he decided that well it’s time for you to do more. So, thus we sought out this larger location and we are trying to do an even bigger impact than what it’s been. And it’s been amazing.

Fabulous I was at an event the other day and they were raving about Special Kneads and the impact that you’ve made in the county. Now you weren’t there so there being no reason to do that other than they see the impact that you’re making. I have to tell you there wasn’t one person in that room and there was a room of about thirty plus who were like oh my goodness they’re amazing. And the impact that you’re making on the county. What I love about the concept is that this concept can also be duplicated and growing. Tell me about your business model.

The business model is trying to utilize as many special needs as possible to help reach the goal of our nonprofit mission. The main reason behind that is after the age of 22 here in Gwinnett County there’s no more County supported programs like school supported adapt and strive and things like that. There are workshops there are day programs but they’re limited and just like us. And fortunately, a lot have a waiting list or a lot of things or the parent or the family has to pay. Our goal was as a business model to pay minimum wage and provide these special needs adults with a sense of pride. A sense of accomplishment. A bit of empowerment and then you know it’s a challenge because they’re also limited in some cases because of Social Security and Medicaid. So, there’s limitations on number of hours or even certain ability levels but we try and find something for everyone. That’s pretty much our business model; have as many special needs as we can and again I wish I had space, room, and funding to take all 151 off the list.

Right but, you’re already made that dent. You’ve made a huge impact because again you’re right the biggest problem with special needs children or special needs people is the fact that they’re like the cast away. It’s like people don’t really acknowledge them. They’re like oh they have disabilities. The issue that I’ve seen with most special needs people is that people look at their limitations and they don’t look at their ability. That’s where we really lose them. They start losing their self-esteem because they’re not being acknowledged. They’re being seen for their disabilities and not being recognized for their abilities. That is the most fascinating part.

It’s an education process. It’s a fear of the unknown. It’s just not understanding. I love it when business owners come in and they say I wish I could hire special needs. My question to them is, why can’t you? They’ll start you know saying things. Tell me every job that you do. Just a really quick example would be like a law practice or a medical firm that is using a company to come in and shred their documents because of the HIPAA and privacy laws. Hire someone with special needs that can’t read because then there’s no issue of security breach. They can’t read and most would love to sit down in front of shredder for two hours. Pay them minimum wage put five different people on them make a huge impact.

It’s the sense of accomplishment. That’s the beauty and that’s what I also see with the elderly. The elderly need to have a purpose. When they have that purpose they’re phenomenal at what they do because you have to fill their laser vision.

Don’t get me wrong it’s about an 80/20 split. There’s a lot of people and a lot of companies that will hire special needs. But they concentrate on the 20% higher functioning. High functioning autism, down’s things like that that don’t need a lot of one on one support and things. But there’s 80% of that sector that want to do something that if you take the time and just figure out what their ability is you can make a difference. There’s a huge workforce out there just wanting to do something.

I think that’s excellent and I think that’s something that I think I’m going to take into consideration also because I just love the concept. Okay, so, you have a waiting list of 125 are you willing to disperse this list or to help people that want to hire from your list?

Sure, we actually just recently had a catering company that wants to try and figure out how they can hire more. We’ve had Sprouts Farmers Market hired four guys off of our waiting list. So, we do what we can and when we hear about things we will share it. A lot of businesses want to be careful because we have over 13,000 followers on Facebook right now I believe. If we post something they will be inundated with resumes and opportunities. I would be you know more than happy to help as much as I can to not only educate the business to hear what jobs they have. Then help them understand how and what level of special needs they could interact with. Then when I hear about opportunities I can share that with the individuals on our waiting list to say okay I think this might be a fit for you. So, that perhaps they get employment a little quicker than rather than the 151 that I have.

That are just sitting there waiting, right. I want to know a little bit about your recipes because I hear that there is a special formula and I want to know about that.

We have something here called chalk horn. This is very addictive. It’s very popular. It was something that my wife’s cousin was making in Missouri. It’s a fairly simple recipe that takes an air puffed product that gets extruded from corn. A few different ingredients like butter, salt, and a couple of other things. Then it’s mixed in a premium white chocolate so it’s gluten-free. It doesn’t have a whole or kernel so people who have diverticulitis they’re not bothered by it. But this is one of the items that we realized early on that it helps with motor skills. So, the special needs who need help with like mixing and what-have-you it actually helps with motor skills as it gets mixed. It helps those who can read and match to match the weights because this is a fifteen ounce bag this is a five-ounce bag. So, they have to match the scale to the number. Those who can twist and tie can help seal the bags. That’s one of the things.

So, you also do OT.

Then the stickers even to the stickers that’s one of the jobs here. We could save a lot of money by buying things pre-done. Pre-stickers pre-this and what-have-you but it’s not creating jobs. So, we looked at what can we do to help incorporate all different skill levels for those who have limited motor skills. Those who may be non-verbal different things like that so, we have a gamut of things that we try and do. Just like Cody comes in on Saturday mornings and loves to decorate cupcakes and does an amazing job. So, he decorates cupcakes when we are trying to come up with new cupcakes because we have eight new flavors we do every month. We have twenty-six every day but we do eight flavors every month. A lot of repeats but when we’re looking at trying to bring a new flavor in we just asked around. We’ve had input from different special needs with sometimes some pretty crazy recipe ideas. Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t and we experiment. We do a lot of things here and take that involvement to let them be creative and a few different things like that.

Oh, my goodness so not only are you guys innovators and creators of the stuff that you do but you also extend that out to the staff.

Yes ma’am.

And these special needs I mean I can imagine how they feel to have a recipe behind that counter.

Every one of our special needs employees and volunteers decorate a cake every week. Their skill level continues to increase and last week on our Facebook feed we put Eric. Eric always has some special theme behind this cakes and sometimes it’s very funny but it’s very creative. He will tell you and then as you’re looking at the cake and you’re seeing the colors and the style that he did you can start seeing where he was going with it. Whether it’s a Tasmanian tiger or wolf or it’s a theme from a Disney movie or something. He’s one of our assistant bakers as well.

I love it. I see you as not just somebody that hires them and gives them a job. You look at your skill level. Then you’re able to do that OT, that PT, creative thinking, or systems thinking because there’s a system to the things that they do. So, you’re doing a lot more than just hiring them. It’s a bit of a job and I bet you never saw that.

We’re a bit humble. Just like you were talking about people talking about us and this that. Yeah, we’re just doing what we should do and what needs to be done.

It’s amazing work that you’re doing here. What is your plan for the future? I know that you’ve grown or at least tripled probably more or four times almost eight times the suffix, right? So, what are you plans? What is your vision for Special Kneads?

Our bigger vision which you know sometimes God laughs at us when we tell him our plans. But what we feel he’s laid on our heart is that this facility would become somewhat of a distribution center. To where eighty percent lower functioning would work here with more one to one less distractions. Then we would push the product out to little storefronts and all the city centers where that 20% higher functioning special needs can interact with customers. Get that experience of doing the retail somewhat retail kind of business. Then once that setup is to where it’s like a cookie cutter template we’ve got the distribution, we’ve got all the little city storefronts with the stores, and then we’ve got it all nice and working. Then that can be a model to pick up to take to the next County. Then kind of honeycomb out from there because we have people all across the country asking us please come here and open something or how do I open this? How do I do that? Then we’ve even had other countries. Probably about seven other countries have asked hey how could we do this here? We don’t have a master plan we just jumped off a cliff without a parachute and said all right God what do we do.

That was the master plan.

When people ask me what’s your business plan, can you share it? I say open up your Bible and read it and just do what you’ve been God gifted with and he’ll take care of the rest.

Amen I love it I. So, you see the the coming of yourself becoming a distribution center?

That’s what we envision. Now if that’s what God has instore it’s great.

But often times when God places things in our heart that’s the direction he wants us to go. We speak we have these great ideas but honestly at the end of the day they all come from him. What do you want to leave people with?

I guess that one thing I would leave people with is try and think outside the box. There’s a huge opportunity of a workforce that wants to work, loves to work, will take pride in some of the simplest tasks, and by giving them an opportunity looking beyond the disability and looking at what is their true ability you can make a world of difference. It does not take a whole lot.

I look forward to coming back and probably in the year to see where you are in a year.

Well this was just in three-and-a-half years and here we are. I never would have guessed it.

I tell you when you take your gift and you give it back to him it’s amazing what he can do with it. I want to thank you so much for being here. For allowing me to come to your space. I know you’re busy. I know you have a large staff and there’s a lot that you’re doing so thank you for giving me the time and for sharing this with the audience. Again, if there’s any other information that they want they’ll let us know and we’ll let you know so that you can possibly help. All right guys I’ll see you next week with another episode of Dr. Nilda Business Foresight Show. I look forward to bringing you another amazing talent bye.

I thank you again for your time and for the opportunity. What I’d like to do now is throw a challenge out there to everyone watching not only to share this with everyone you know and post like crazy on Facebook but as a nonprofit and all nonprofits. They’re always in need of funding so my challenge to you today is to pray to God and just see what he lays upon your heart because every dollar matters and we’d love to be your nonprofit for funding on a recurring monthly basis. But just pick a non-profit because all of us need help and every dollar does matter so you could go to our website www.specialkneadsandtreats.org. We’d love to be your nonprofit of choice for your recurring monthly donations. But my challenge is see what God leads you to do because you might be in another city another town and even though we love everybody from all over the country see where your lead. Just see what God says to help a local nonprofit to do the things they do so they can continue to grow and serve their community.



#Interview with Micheal Kohler founder of Special Kneads and Treats”

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