by Laurie Otto
More than 30 years ago, Shirley Lynch, a vocational instructor at Holy Childhood in Henrietta, was looking for an activity to help people with disabilities learn skills. She wanted an activity that could be broken down into steps, and one that was in line with Holy Childhood’s mission – to help prepare children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities for maximum independence and integration in the community.
The activity she chose was baking. Everyone loved the idea, especially the staff at Holy Childhood who purchased the delicious apple crumb pies made by the newly-trained and enthusiastic bakers.
With scrumptious pies in hand, Shirley set out to visit local restaurants and community organizations to see if they might be interested in supporting the bakery. It wasn’t long before the pies made by the bakers with disabilities became highly sought after. Dozens of establishments became customers.
More varieties of pies were added. In its very small, 700-square-foot school kitchen, the bakery was turning out 17,000 pies each year.
Then in 2015, changes in “sheltered workshop” regulations were handed down by New York State. They mandated that all employment opportunities and related services delivered by Holy Childhood be provided in a community-based setting. In other words, the bakery had to be separated from the school, and operate in a facility out in the community.
It became an opportunity to expand.
Relocating the bakery to a larger site made it possible for people with – and without – disabilities to work side by side as employees and earn a competitive wage. The new bakery, recognized as an economic driver for the Rochester community, would help to reduce poverty among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who come up against so many barriers to employment, from a lack of specific skill sets to cognitive or physical impairments. The new bakery would help to eliminate that problem by providing jobs and continuous support and, at the same time, embracing differences in abilities.
In October of 2017, the ribbon was cut at the new Special Touch Bakery at 1999 Mt. Read Boulevard in Rochester. The brand new, state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot commercial facility employs more than 30 people with and without disabilities who skillfully and proudly produce the best pies you’ll ever taste. Today, there are more than 55 pie varieties available made with non-GMO ingredients. Among them are vegan and no-sugar-added selections.
Plans were also made to create Shirley’s Café in the lobby, named for the entrepreneurial vocational instructor who started it all. They hope to open the cafe in the fall of 2019.
Since it opened, the bakery has churned out more than 100,000 pies. It’s equipped with a fully automated pie production line with interchangeable sections. It can be varied depending on the size and type of the pie being produced and the abilities of the bakers working on the line. But make no mistake – those premium pies are still filled and crimped by hand. The premium 10-inch pies, favorites among regional customers, are still made by hand. Other sizes are available now, too.
Proceeds from pie sales benefit Holy Childhood, where pie-making as a vocational skill-building activity evolved in a very big way. More than 60 restaurants, community organizations and retail customers throughout the greater Rochester area serve Special Touch Bakery pies, and distribution partners have enabled regional (and eventually, national) expansion.
“Our pies simply stand out,” says Director of Bakery Operations Joe Perdicho. “It’s because of the quality of the ingredients we use, but also because they are made with a lot of love and pride by our amazing bakers. Our pies have mission behind them.”
Special Touch Bakery also offers a fundraising program. It partners with dozens of organizations raising money for their schools, churches, sports groups and dance teams, just to name a few. “We’re looking forward to partnering with more groups and organizations to expand and grow our fundraising program in the year ahead,” says Perdicho. “Like them, we have a great story to tell. We’re proud to help support our customers’ fundraising efforts for their own organizations.”
To see the full selection of Special Touch Bakery pies, visit specialtouchbakery.org. To see the bakers in action, visit the bakery Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1999 Mt. Read Boulevard. To place an order for pickup at either the Mt. Read location or at Holy Childhood in Henrietta, call 585-359-BAKE (2253). Plans are underway for online ordering. To sell Special Touch Bakery pies at your business, call Joe Perdicho at 585-359-BAKE (2253) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the bakery online on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.