Every baked good is made with a secret ingredient—love.
Husband-and-wife owners Michael and Tempa Kohler needed a place for their son, who suffers from a genetic chromosome disorder called Fragile X syndrome, to work. Tempa soon turned her passion for baking and decorating cakes into solving a problem for adults dealing with a mental or learning disability. Once their son, Bradley, turned 22 and was no longer able to participate in county-supported disability programs, the Kohlers quickly got to work establishing Special Kneads and Treats, Inc. The bakery officially opened on January 23, 2014.
Even though Tempa has been working dough with her hands since she was 13 years old, these days, she’s kneading her cake dough with two special ingredients—love and kindness. Today, the nonprofit bakery, which was inspired by Bradley and a fondness for sweets, employs 16 special-needs adults. In addition, Special Kneads and Treats produces approximately 20 cakes per week and up to 2,000 cupcakes a month.
However, in its early days of operation on the town’s square, the bakery wasn’t exactly the community institution it is now. There were only a handful of special-needs volunteers and one full-time employee working out of a cramped kitchen. At the time, Special Kneads only sold cakes and sweet treats to the general public, but Michael and Tempa felt they had a greater calling and purpose to fulfill. Beyond offering meaningful employment to help those with disabilities gain experience and valuable skills, Michael and Tempa also had a desire to give away their baked creations for free to families who couldn’t afford such indulgences.
As the bakery grew in staff and size, Michael and Tempa finally saw their vision come to life. In August 2017, they moved to a new and bigger location in Lawrenceville. Now, they’re working with more than 15 food co-ops and Gwinnett County nonprofits to make it possible for families to celebrate momentous occasions with a custom-made birthday cake.
"In just under four years, we’ve exploded," Michael said. "Through support and the community, we’ve gone through a 1,700-square-foot facility to a huge 12,000-square-foot facility that we’re only using half of right now."
Though the volunteers don’t receive a paycheck, each of their 16 employees, including those with disabilities, are paid minimum wage. But there’s a waitlist of more than 150 adults who want to work at the bakery. Although they don’t have the funding to hire everyone on the list, Michael and Tempa would like to add at least 20 volunteers from that list to their burgeoning team.
"When they’re [special-needs adults] working here, they’re not sitting on the couch at home," Michael told the Daily Gwinnett Post in August. "They want to be a part of something. They want to feel a sense of need—they want to feel a sense of pride."
"We need to educate businesses that you can hire special-needs adults," Tempa said in her interview with USA Today. "There is nothing to be afraid of. They are great employees, they come to work every day, and they take pride in their work. You put them on a task and they are going to do it."
Of course, there are plenty of bakeries in the South that bake cakes and cupcakes just as well as Special Kneads and Treats, Inc. But you won’t find many that do it with such a caring and loving spirit, keeping those who are disabled and financially disadvantaged in mind.
To learn more information, donate, or sponsor a birthday cake to deliver to a family in need, visit Special Kneads and Treats' website here.