Special Kneads bakery on mission to hire more special adults

They were challenged to raise $100,000 in six months and it looks like they just might pull it off.

Tempa and Michael Kohler are the owners of Special Kneads and Treats, a nonprofit bakery in Lawrenceville that employs only special needs individuals. This spring, at their Third Annual Gala-Q event, one of their benefactors, Clyde Strickland, stood and announced that if the Kohlers could raise $100,000 by Sept. 20, he would match those funds to help them pay off the bakery’s mortgage.

“We love what they do to help people, the way they love on them, create jobs for them. They are an inspiration,” said Strickland, 82, the CEO of Metro Waterproofing. “I don’t doubt they’ll meet their goal, as God always meets his goal. All we have to do is challenge the people who love him.”

As of Aug. 7, the Kohlers had raised $85,293.29. They’ve received donations online, in the bakery, and through their eBay store.

“Having this money to pay off our mortgage will free up over $2,000 every month,” said Tempa Kohler, 53. “We have a 12,000-square-foot building, but only utilize 6,000 square feet. We could work toward renovating the rest of our building, opening more storefronts, and hiring more employees.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

They currently have 28 employees and 219 on the waiting list, some of whom have been waiting almost five years. The mission of Special Kneads and Treats is to empower special needs adults to find meaningful, gainful employment.

“They aren’t just volunteering. That wouldn’t fix the problem,” said Tempa. “We aren’t a training program. We don’t want them to learn something, then go back to the sofa.

There aren’t enough employers hiring special needs adults and we want to change that. Employers don’t understand how awesome these individuals are. They come to work every day, they love what they do, they’re eager to learn, happy, friendly – who wouldn’t want that in every employee? We have yet to find someone we cannot find a position for. We have nonverbal individuals, wheelchair-bound employees. They all take on a task and thrive.”

The idea for Special Kneads and Treats was born from the Kohlers’ desire to find a place where their son, Bradley, 31, could work. Bradley has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes mild to severe impairment.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“Bradley played in a special-needs baseball program for years and we knew he’d age out when he turned 22,” said Tempa. “We and the other parents wondered what our kids would do, where they’d go. I’d always loved decorating cakes as a hobby, so I told everyone I’d open a bakery where our kids would work. We didn’t have any money, no clue how to launch a nonprofit, but we thought ‘God, if this is truly something you want us to do, we know you’ll make it happen.’”

After a series of what the Kohlers believe were divine interventions, they opened their 501(c)(3) bakery on Jan. 24, 2014.

They worked 90 to100 hour weeks for the first six months, reduced that to 80 hours by the year mark, and happily keep a more balanced schedule these days. Bradley works three full days a week and likes to consider himself upper management, joked Tempa. He’s good at taking instruction, but he loves to find jobs for others, too.

“All our employees gain confidence, social skills, and friendships,” said Tempa.

An employee of five years, Ian Pearce, who has high-functioning Autism, confirms.

“This is my first job I’ve ever had,” said Pearce, 23. “It really helps me build myself up as a person, because when I started, I was very shy and introverted, and didn’t talk to people much. I am still introverted, but not as shy. I talk to my co-workers a lot; I’m outgoing with customers and this job has also helped me become a leader. I help some of the other employees with their tasks, like taking out trash and I teach them the ins and out of working the front of the shop. I also make cupcakes, icing and choccorn, which is white chocolate-covered puff corn, one of our most popular items.”

The bakery offers 26 cupcake flavors daily. They also sell vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and all-free items. Tempa trains the employees to decorate and some, like siblings Cody and Courtney Southerland, have found they have a strong knack for the task.

“They can decorate really well on their own and they have both grown so much socially,” said Tempa. “What a difference it makes to give someone a sense of meaning, somewhere to go and have responsibility. It’s like we say: “everyone kneads to be kneaded.’”

With just weeks to go to their challenge deadline, just weeks until they can make big dreams a reality, the Kohlers have full faith that God will continue to make big things happen for their little bakery that could.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner


Contributions to Special Kneads and Treats can be made at www.specialkneadsandtreats.org, or call 678-237-7147. Follow updates on their FaceBook page.

Upcoming fundraisers

Sept. 17: Tidal Wave Auto Spa, 425 Grayson Highway, Lawrenceville, will donate 50% of the day’s proceeds to Special Kneads and Treats.

Oct. 29: The 17th Annual Loganville Rotary Golf Tournament at Monroe Golf & Country Club, 1414 Alcovy St., Monroe.