It is morning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the basement of an old church anyone might walk right by in the middle of the week, a team is hard at work. They have already met for the day to go over their goals and responsibilities, and they are creating delicious baked goods that will soon fill the bellies of community members. Like any other bakery, things don’t go perfectly — messes are made, snafus handled. But the end product is always the same: delicious baked goods to satisfy customers. This is Stir It Up.
Stir It Up isn’t a whole lot different than any other bakery still in its early stages. They are a for-profit company looking to grow and meet their goals. There is one element of their business model, however, that sets them apart. Stir It Up focuses on employing adults with cognitive disabilities. They provide job opportunities with competitive, fair wages to those who have likely faced job discrimination in the past, and an opportunity to develop work skills.
According to Zoe Bruyn, the founder of Stir It Up, nearly 75 percent of people living with disabilities are unemployed. Zoe wants to change that statistic.
“I wanted to set an example for other businesses,” she said on her for-profit business model.
Too often, employers underestimate the asset members of this underemployed community are to a company. Zoe shared that her team members are some of the most dedicated people she has ever met that care deeply about their jobs. She wants to bridge the gap between employers’ preconceived notions and the reality.
The company also places a high value on professional development. Throughout the day, employees rotate working various shifts so that everyone gets a chance to develop a multitude of skills, from baking and mixing, to packaging and of course, cleaning. This goes beyond the immediate skills and builds a sense of team where everyone plays a role in the operation.
“Whether you have a disability or not, we all take pride in our jobs,” Zoe pointed out.
And many of the Stir It Up staff members take pride not only in their jobs but also their community engagement. The majority of the staff are volunteers at organizations that serve other causes. Often, these are regular commitments they make outside of work, thus donating their free time to help others.
Of course, no business is without some growing pains. One of the biggest challenges the company faces is “reaching the everyday consumer.” They have plenty of online and large corporate orders, but their current location in a church basement, while great to have, presents some limitations. Right now, employees attend pop-up shops at local venues and events, but they look to a future with a permanent point of sale. Not only does this allow for growth in sales, but it is more face-to-face contact with customers, which is a great way to break down stigma and foster customer service skills. The goal is to acquire a more permanent space within the next year.
As with any business venture, no one knows exactly what or who will be a part of the journey. Zoe has the pleasure of working with many dedicated employees, but a story about Jessie, in particular, came to mind.
During her time with Stir It Up, Jessie has shown some true growth and commitment to her work. It all paid off one day when, as Zoe puts it, “things did not go as planned.” Jessie’s shift ended, but she stepped out to call her mom and let her know she would be staying because the job simply wasn’t finished.
“She stayed an extra two hours! She wanted to make sure the team succeeded,” Zoe said.
Whether it’s breaking down a preconceived notion about someone who may seem different, or simply delivering a tasty treat, Stir It Up is a company to watch. You can learn more and order your own sweet treats at stiritupbakery.com.