Inspired by her sister who has lower functioning autism, Sara Mae Pratt established Puzzles Bakery & Cafe in Schenectady, New York, to offer people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to work. The employees at Puzzles Bakery & Cafe are appreciated and accepted for who they are, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
There’s a saying, “A good day is a pay day.” With work, one can pay the bills, cover the rent, buy food, and even save up a little. Well, ideally. Not only that, work also gives us a sense of purpose and self-worth.
Sad to say, for many individuals with autism, having a job is a far-fetched dream. Many employers wouldn’t want to consider hiring an autistic person for even the simplest of roles due to their difficulties with communication and social interaction. That’s the case for Pratt’s younger sister, Emily.
Pratt wondered what awaited Emily as she approached adulthood.
“She was nearing adulthood and we were starting to realize what kinds of opportunities were available for people with developmental disabilities,” Pratt told TODAY.
Sadly, they found none. Job hunting for Emily was easier said than done. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 18.7 percent of people with a disability were employed in 2017.
Realizing how hard it was for individuals with special needs to find work, Pratt took matters into her own hands and opened Puzzles Bakery & Cafe to offer job opportunities to people with developmental disabilities.
Pratt named her cafe “Puzzles” and used a puzzle piece as its logo because it is a symbol for autism awareness.
“Puzzles is a social enterprise that employs developmentally disabled adults and simultaneously serves the public delicious food, along with a more compassionate attitude toward marginalized members of society,” Pratt wrote on Linkedin.
“At Puzzles Bakery & Café, our approach is two-fold: we seek to welcome and include individuals and families affected by special needs into the community, and in turn, hope to nurture compassion and understanding by exposing our community to individuals with disabilities.
“Piece by piece, we seek to make the world a better place for all, regardless of ability or disability,” Puzzles’ website states.
It's lunchtime! 😋 #lunch #schenectady #autismemployed #smallbusiness #salad #soup #sandwich #lunchtime
At the moment, over 50 percent of Puzzles’ some 16 full-time and part-time workers have autism or other types of developmental disability. Instead of hiring them to do menial jobs like sweeping the floor or cleaning the bathroom, Pratt assigns them tasks such as baking, cooking, preparing food in the kitchen, taking the orders, and customer service.
One of Pratt’s employees, Andra Moore, who has autism, told TODAY she’s happy working at Puzzles Bakery & Cafe, where co-workers embrace and respect her for who she is.
Teamwork makes the dream work! Andra had the fantastic idea to try out a new menu item, and Connor made it happen. Don’t…
“I’ve always been treated like less than. Given the tasks that nobody wants to do. And then, just not expected to do much or not expected to be able to do much, not treated like I’m competent or know anything,” Moore said.
“People are kind here. People are nice. People treat you with respect,” Moore added.
At Puzzles Bakery & Cafe, a public meltdown is tolerated.
“What I love about Puzzles is everyone can feel really at home and safe here. All of our employees are really understanding and trained. They would completely understand if somebody was vocalizing or maybe rocking back and forth or having a meltdown in a way that might be sort of socially inappropriate elsewhere. It’s OK here,” Pratt said.
Now taking orders for holiday pies! Call 518-280-2620 to place your Thanksgiving pie orders today! Made from scratch with love. ❤️
One employee, Tim Primeau, was all smiles on his first day, and loves serving customers.
“Tim has been with us from day 1. He is one of the most enthusiastic workers that you’ll ever meet,” Pratt said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him have a bad day.”
Happy first day of Spring! Stop by for a delicious sandwich, salad, or soup for lunch this afternoon— served up by Jered and the rest of the Puzzles team! 😃
Quiet, snowy days are PERFECT for training! Today, Maddy is working on making croutons independently. Way to go, Maddy! 😊
Pratt’s future plan? She hopes to franchise the cafe to create more job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.
“To date, we’ve had close to 4,000 applications, which is absolutely fantastic, but also heartbreaking, because I don’t have 4,000 positions available,” she said.
Hence, with limited jobs she can offer, Pratt urges other establishments to follow her example and give those with special needs a chance to shine.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. We have some of the most dedicated, loyal, amazing workers here at Puzzles, and I know that all across the country there are people with developmental disabilities who want nothing more than to be given the opportunity to work,” she said.
Our team is growing! We are looking for leaders with a passion for helping others and an interest in preparing food. Apply online today! 😀
Keep up the amazing work, Pratt!
Like Pratt, we hope her cafe will inspire more businesses to hire those with disabilities, creating an inclusive environment where everyone has the opportunity to experience the joy of working.
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