Chelle Baldwin only has to look at a family portrait to find motivation to make SweetAbility Bakery a success. It’s her older daughter Rosie, 19, who has several disabilities including autism, beating the odds and proving doctors wrong. Though—considering the deliciousness and sugar content in her pies and hot cocoa bombs—it’s probably better that she pretends that her husband isn’t a dentist!
By partnering with Market Wagon, Chelle is able to find a consistent customer base in between custom orders and raise awareness for SweetAbility’s mission as she hopes to expand and hire more people with disabilities.
It didn’t take long after Rosie was born for Chelle to know something was wrong. In fact, when Rosie was tested by doctors when she was 9 months old, she was in the bottom 1%. Even with intensive therapy, doctors said she may never learn to talk.
A research program at Vanderbilt was key to getting Rosie to speak, although, due to apraxia of speech, even at 19 years old, she struggles to make all sounds. Rosie was diagnosed with autism when she was 3. She was later diagnosed with an intellectual disability, meaning it would be an uphill battle for her to get and keep a job.
“If you’re not a parent or closely related to someone with special needs, you have no idea the challenges they face,” Chelle said. “Especially after they age out of the school system. Families call it ‘falling off the cliff’ since the young adult with disabilities and their loved ones are now on their own with little to no support and limited opportunities for employment.”
That was a big motivating factor for Chelle to retire from her job as a massage therapist and turn SweetAbility Bakery into a full-time business which could employ Rosie full-time and provide a guaranteed safe place of employment, free from potential abuse when Rosie leaves the school system in the spring. Chelle’s baking business had originally been created to help offset a friend’s cancer bills and for several years was a side hustle/passion project for Chelle as part of an extreme cake business.
But the extreme cake business isn’t easy. It’s reliant on custom orders and requires high level artistic skills. After establishing SweetAbility, she knew she had to move in a direction of specializing in desserts and baked goods that people with varying skill levels can create successfully with minimal assistance.
In addition to custom orders, Chelle’s business had taken part in several pop-up events which highlighted a different downside—the wasted product (and squeeze on profits) when prepared inventory didn’t completely sell out.
“I’m selling perishables,” Chelle said. “If I don’t sell all of them, I’m dead in the water. I’m losing money every weekend. The ambiguity of the whole operation kept me from more deeply investing in the arrangement.”
By offering her products on Market Wagon, Chelle is able to create a stable source of revenue. As she builds her business, the digital platform is an important piece of the financial picture as she hopes to hire others with disabilities to help in the bakery alongside her and Rosie.
“Rosie is super social,” Chelle said. “She loves to help in the kitchen, she loves going for deliveries. One of her favorite parts is attaching the stickers to each product. I hope other people with disabilities, like Rosie, will find a job in the bakery that they love to do as well.”
In addition to consistent weekly orders, she’s also found Market Wagon to be helpful in expanding the name recognition of SweetAbility Bakery through the Nashville market. Knowing exactly what she needs to make each week helps save on ingredient and production costs, making the business more viable.
There’s also a delicious bit of irony in all this. With Chelle’s husband David as a dentist, everyone thinks it’s pretty funny that he might benefit from people who overindulge on SweetAbility’s tasty treats (consider this your friendly reminder to brush thoroughly afterwards!)!
More importantly, Chelle hopes as more people try a dessert from SweetAbility Bakery, they will learn about Rosie and the bakery’s mission to employ people with disabilities, raise awareness for their great capabilities and inspire other businesses to be more inclusive in their hiring practices—that would truly be sweet success with a cherry on top!
Everything from SweetAbility Bakery comes from a dedicated kitchen on Chelle’s property that has slowly been transformed over the years.
She also encourages customers to explore the hot cocoa or cappuccino poppers which contain an explosion of flavor inside a round chocolate shell. Chelle says customers often put them in a mug, then pour hot water or milk over them, melting the chocolate. She and customers agree that they are “to die for” with variety of flavors like salted caramel, red velvet or peppermint.
Another popular item are the chocolate chip cookies with pecans which are super popular as well as the caramel apples which come in a variety of flavors too, including chocolate covered, rolled in various toppings. Chelle’s personal favorite is the Himalayan Salted Chocolate Covered Caramel Apple.