How Seagull Bakery Creates Opportunities for Adults With Disabilities

Today we want to highlight an incredible mother/daughter team who have started a disability-owned business in Florida: Seagull Bakery. We had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Lombardo, Lara’s mom. Although Lara was initially considering traditional employment, she ultimately decided to pursue her passion and became a pastry chef. This story is a clear demonstration of how self-employment opens job opportunities wide open and how you absolutely must have a business support team in place in order to make it sustainable.

Please take note of the following points from this interview:

1) Seagull Bakery is focused on interest and abilities, not disabilities.

2) Seagull Bakery is not a team of one. There is support in place for the business in their local community.

3) Lastly, sustainability has been built into the business model. They have been able to launch the business knowing the value of partnerships and understanding how to leverage supports.

Bravo, Seagull Bakery!

What is Seagull Bakery and what is its connection to the disability community?

Seagull Bakery is an online bakery, begun five years ago to employ our daughter who has autism and is a pastry chef. We have since grown and moved into commercial kitchen space, shared by a catering company. Our goal is to employ, mentor and teach those with autism while creating the very best pastries and desserts!

Why did self-employment seem like the way forward for your family?

Our daughter has a lot of ambition and is an excellent worker, but needs a supported environment. She’s worked in the regular restaurant businesses and it overwhelmed her. But it was clear that she could work well in the right situation. We had no idea the bakery would take off like it did, but we began as a cottage industry in our home, as a way for our daughter to learn at her own pace. We’ve been in the commercial kitchen for two years and it’s a true support system with all the employees, bakery or catering.

What obstacles did you face in starting this venture? How did you overcome them?

We had to find suitable partners to help us grow the business, specifically finding a pastry chef/bakery manager who would be willing and able to take on our mission and work successfully with our daughter, who has some behavior issues. She “ran off” many promising employees, so this was the most difficult obstacle. It literally took years to find the ideal situation, but we persevered, and finally are partnered with the best person we could’ve imagined. Our bakery manager is also a fantastic pastry chef, so we found both skills in one person. She’s in charge of growing the business, but again, finding other bakers/chefs to join in this venture has been difficult. We’re doing great now, but I would say the right combination of employees is paramount to success.

The bakery business is very competitive, but we have a great product, and also the best story! Customers have really responded to it, and often choose us over cheaper alternatives because of our mission.

What strategies have you used to gain supports from others?

We created the marketing around our tagline, “Thank you for supporting those with autism!” We highlighted our mission to “employ, mentor and teach those with autism,” so people would know help our cause. We created a newsletter, a Facebook page, Instagram, and a website, and grew our online presence by staying active. We taught baking classes, either individually or group, and school-based, where we met students with potential and interest in the baking field of work. We donate desserts to a variety of charitable events, and set up booths at autism-friendly gatherings.

How have you planned to ensure the long-term sustainability of this business?

We’re planning to open a retail storefront next year which will offer many more career opportunities for young adults with disabilities, and we can take advantage of state tax and vocational incentives with the new space. We’ve found a business partner who has the same goals as we do, so we’ll have even more help and support in the near future.

For more information, visit Seagull Bakery.

[photo: Verousce McKibbin (Business Support Team Member and Chef) and Carol Lombardo (mom)]

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