Tablespoons Bakery is making life sweeter for students with developmental disabilities. The Richmond, Virginia-based company’s unique employment-learning program hires young adults with diverse abilities.
It’s employment that comes with a mission to not only teach people how to bake but to share business fundamentals and independent living skills as well.
Launched in 2017 with the support of the Virginia Department of Education, Tablespoons now employs more than 50 people annually. The end goal is to help celebrate the potential of these employees, to help them achieve success. The skills they learn baking cookies and cakes can be transferred to future job opportunities.
Executive Director and co-founder Elizabeth Redford, who previously worked as a special education teacher, is at the helm of Tablespoons, working hard every day to help employees learn critical living skills. Sometimes that means teaching employees how to make changes for customers or how to measure flour or sugar, sometimes it’s about them learning customer interaction skills or judging how long a cookie or scone should stay in the oven. These skills are lifelong, and the bakery hopes it will help combat the 70 percent unemployment rate for disabled people in Virginia.
“We want Tablespoons to be a place of love and inclusion, to show that our differences make us beautiful,” Redford said. “When people come, they will see our students in action, see them thrive, and see for themselves just how amazing these young adults are. We bake to make a difference.”
Last summer, Tablespoons opened its first official location on Westover Hills Boulevard in South Richmond. There, employees in the program spend half the day working in the bakery with professional chefs and bakers – some baking in the kitchen, some selling in the shop – with the other half of the day spent in a classroom working on interviews and resume skills. Employees not only become experts at customer favorites like lemon bars, blueberry chip cookies, and chocolate chip scones, they learn that they are capable and have everything they need to succeed. They also get to engage daily with customers and the community, giving their personal interactions skills a boost.
“We believe that when given support and encouragement, anybody can succeed, anybody can get a job,” added Kelsey Dunn, the bakery’s Director of Education.Tablespoons builds confidence by bolstering independence in its employees one baked good at a time. One of the program’s first graduates, Christopher Brennan, experienced that directly. “I used to be shy at first,” he said, “but now I have really opened up. I get paid, and it’s something I love doing.”