Friday, July 23, 2010

A recipe for success

I'm posting this story from the June print issue of BLOOM in honour of Empowering People with Disabilities, an event July 24 on BloggersUnite. Check out the other blog posts that have been written for the event. Please let me know of other innovative businesses run by people with disabilities!

A recipe for success

Lemon & Allspice Cookery is a Toronto catering business operated by a partnership of 15 people with intellectual disabilities. BLOOM interviewed Jeannette Campbell, executive director of the Common Ground Co-operative, which provides support to Lemon & Allspice, to learn more about this novel partnership.

BLOOM: How did Lemon and Allspice get started?

Jeannette Campbell: It was started by Carolyn Lemon and her daughter Cathy (in photo above). Cathy has a developmental disability and was involved in all sorts of programs for meaningful activity and employment, but nothing was solid enough or engaging enough. She really wanted to bake and sell her cookies. The family had a big house with apartments and her mom gave her the top floor apartment to use the kitchen. Cathy started selling her cookies to family friends, community groups and local churches. A couple of Cathy’s friends wanted to get involved and her parents were interested, so they decided to create a business. But instead of a standard business, they created a partnership where the business owners are all adults with disabilities. Community Living Toronto offered the use of a commercial kitchen in one of their group homes.

BLOOM: What are the products it sells?

Jeannette Campbell: They started out with lemon and allspice cookies, chocolate chip cookies and lemon squares and then added sandwiches, salads and vegetable and cheese trays. As the parents realized they needed a bit of support they pooled their resources and got a job coach to help with baking and selling the cookies and training the partners to use the TTC, because they do all of their own deliveries. In addition to churches, community groups and friends, they were soon selling to businesses and government agencies.

How does the business work today?

Jeannette Campbell: It has 15 partners, three apprentices, two job coaches and a co-ordinator. It runs five—sometimes six—days a week and has moved from a mom’s kitchen to a commercial kitchen. They’re up around $90,000 to $100,000 in sales each year and have spawned other businesses. The co-ordinator is a professional chef who not only works in the kitchen but also works with the job coaches at the coffee sheds and makes sure everything is up to standard.

BLOOM: Tell us about the spin-off businesses.

Jeannette Campbell: Lemon and Allspice was the original and then came Common Ground. It’s a co-operative that was created to provide an umbrella of support to Lemon and Allspice and three other businesses. We’re contracted to provide administrative support, pre-vocational training, job coaching, raise funds and oversee the businesses. Sixty-five per cent of our funding comes through the provincial government and the rest—about $200,000—we raise through our charity. We're funded through the Ministry of Community and Social Services to run a training program for youth aged 18 to 21 who can then apprentice in one of the businesses for three months. The other businesses are called the Coffee Sheds— there’s one in Surrey Place, one at the University of Toronto, and one in Jewish Vocational Services. They’re snack bars that sell the baked goods and sandwiches by Lemon and Allspice, as well as fair trade coffee and other foods. The businesses are social-purpose enterprises. Not only do they have a financial bottom line, but they have a social bottom line. We’re addressing underemployment for people with intellectual disabilities and debunking myths.

BLOOM: Who are Lemon and Allspice's customers?

Jeannette Campbell: They include major banks and law firms, non-profit groups, government ministries and churches.

BLOOM: How does a person become a partner?

Jeannette Campbell: After a three-month apprenticeship, the partners vote to bring them in or not. We as staff don't make any decisions—the partners are in control of that.

BLOOM: What do the partners get paid?

Jeannette Campbell: The partners take a draw every month based on 33 per cent of revenues before the cost of goods sold. Depending on the number of hours worked, they can earn up to $300 each month, which is discretionary income they use to supplement their disability support.

BLOOM: What kind of impact has the business had on partners?

Jeannette Campbell: There’s something about the empowerment that happens when somebody realizes it’s not just that they work here, it’s theirs, it’s that ownership and responsibility that gives them a sense of pride. You see a lot of skills development, particularly in the coffee sheds where there’s a lot of interaction with the public. You’ll hear a partner say: “My family wasn't sure why I wanted to do this because they said I couldn't understand money. Now I can break a $20, I can break a $50. I love making change. I like working on the cash register. I couldn't look someone in the eye. I had a really hard time talking to strangers. Now I’m a self-advocate and do presentations across the province on our business partnership model.”

BLOOM: What advice would you give parents of young children with intellectual disabilities?

Jeannette Campbell: Start cultivating the interests and abilities in your child the same way that you would with anyone. Find the gift that your child has and cultivate it. If you can get a group of people together with a similar vision, that’s where the strength comes in. We've got about 200 members in our co-op and only 40 per cent are parents. The others are community members interested in making inclusion work. They include professors and people who run their own coffee shops. Our expertise lies within the membership of the co-op.


What a powerful article and an inspirational story.

Strangely enough, I recently purchased two ceramic candle sticks painted by adults who have Down syndrome. The proceeds go directly back into the facility where people with intellectual disabilities live.

Anyway, I was sent printed bios of each person who painted the candle sticks. And it got me thinking about whether this project was something that was a choice or not for him and her opposed it being the only thing offered to do.

And this leads me to thinking about Gabe's future. So, it is always inspiring and hopeful to read stories such as Jeanette's and Cathy's! Congratulations on their success too!

Hi Lianna -- This is an important point. I think too often people with intellectual disabilities don't get to choose their work -- they go with what is offered or what they're told to do. That's why I love that in this story the business was built on Cathy's love/interest in cooking. I hope other readers will tell us about similar businesses they've heard of. Hope Gabe is enjoying the summer!