Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Zoe Bruyn, owner of Stir it Up Bakery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stir It Up is a bakery with a mission to provide meaningful employment to individuals with special needs. Stir It Up is not only designed to provide a safe atmosphere where individuals can obtain skills but it is also an example for other bakeries/local business to hire those with special needs.
To share a little background on why I wanted to meet Zoe…I first learned about them at my friends’ wedding. Kayla and Nick Olle are area directors for Special Olympics and both are incredibly passionate about their athletes and Special Olympics as a whole. One of their athletes was hired by Zoe and when Nick and Kayla got married, they knew their dessert had to be from Stir It Up Bakery. They had a variety of cupcakes at their wedding and they were absolutely decadent and delicious!
One of the first things Zoe and I talked about was the statistic she learned, that 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed. (WHAT!?) Zoe, who has always been an entrepreneur and passionate about working with those with disabilities knew she needed to do something about that number. When she was ready to get started she entered an entrepreneur contest and won $5000 to start making Stir it Up a reality.
Zoe started the bakery in her parent’s kitchen. The Cottage Law allows a person to legally bake and prepare certain foods in their home kitchens and sell them on a small scale, typically at farmers markets and direct to other consumers. She felt this was a relatively easy way to begin and did not require a lot of investment to start. She hired her first employee, Kyle, and they started selling their cookies, namely their staple Monster cookie, at West Michigan Miracle League on Saturdays. Very quickly, their cookies became very popular and they found themselves needing an oven that baked more than a dozen cookies at a time.
As their bakery grew, she was able to hire more people and expand their business. She shared with me that her goal is to provide a work environment that not only is safe but also highlights her employees’ abilities, skills, and talents. There’s a stigma out there about hiring someone with a disability. Zoe firmly believes with the right training and support, your most loyal and hard working employees could be someone with a disability, they just need to be given the opportunity to learn. She treats her employees like any bakery owner would. However, she understands the need for gentle reinforcement and that the learning gap may be a bit longer, but the reward is a win-win for all.
Zoe also shared her advice and experience with entrepreneurship. She say’s in order to be an entrepreneur, you have an idea and you go with it. You learn as you go and sometimes the business doesn’t work out…but sometimes it does. She shared that Stir It Up is not where she wants it to be (yet!) and that the sky is the limit. From owning their own store front (they still rent out of a commercial kitchen) to the Stir it Up Bakery business/model expanding across the nation.
Currently, if you want to purchase any of these cookies or desserts you can place corporate orders on their website, visit them at their next Pop Up shop (find announcements for these on their social channels Facebook, Instagram), or visit the Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids where they have their only wholesale items sold right now. She shared that Bridge Street Market has been very kind and supportive to them and other small, local businesses.
(Disclaimer not really a disclaimer: These cookies were purchased by me because I support this business, this was not a paid advertisement)
As for me, I’m going to go eat the rest of this monster cookie! If you visit them, let me know by tagging them and me in your next Facebook or Instagram post. Cheers!