Spectrum Bakes is one of The Nicholas Center’s Spectrum enterprises which sells chocolate and granola goodies. Spectrum Bakes and The Nicholas Center work together to create inclusive and meaningful employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum.
At Spectrum Bakes, based out of Port Washington, individuals with autism work together to make yummy chocolate boxes and granola bars. In addition to Spectrum Bakes, The Nicholas Center also offers Spectrum Designs and Spectrum Suds. Spectrum Designs is a custom apparel and promotional items business. Spectrum Suds is a drop-off laundry service. All three businesses provide jobs for individuals on the autism spectrum. As a non-profit, one hundred percent of the proceeds go back to employing people with differing abilities.
Spectrum Bakes began in 2015. The first products made and sold were granola bars, bites and toasted granola. Three flavors of granola were available for customers to choose from.
“The generic recipe was easy for anyone to follow,” said Deana Nissen, Enterprise Director of Bakes and Suds. “The granola had simple, clear packaging with a nice label.”
Over the years, Spectrum Bakes has evolved, and their products have expanded. Now, they offer four flavors of granola and have upgraded the packaging.
“They’re now called the Giving Bar, made for giving back,” said Nissen. “We’ve tied the name of the bar in with our mission, so people will not only have a great bar, but they’ll know that what they’re eating is also giving back.”
The Giving Collections include the Giving Bar and the Giving Granola, the toasted granola. The four flavors offered now are Pumpkin Sunflower Seed, Sweet Cranberry, Chocolate Chunk Granola and Salted Chocolate Sunflower Butter.
“After doing just granola for a while, we decided to start making special gift boxes for the holidays,” said Nissen. “Each year, we add a new product to the gift box. The first year we added chocolate-covered pretzels, and the next year chocolate-covered Oreos. Both products are still fan favorites. Last year, we developed a chocolate s’more.”
The gift boxes are available to order throughout the year, but the holiday season or the end of the year is the busiest time for Spectrum Bakes. For the holiday season, Spectrum Bakes will put together a gift box with an assortment of their items and the new product.
“We add a little bit of something new each year,” said Nissen.
Spectrum Bakes sells individual granola bars and other granola products in addition to various-sized gift boxes. Customers can browse their online store and order products to be gifted for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays or be shipped out to college kids and loved ones in other states. Spectrum Bakes takes on larger orders like corporate gifts, where they will have to make and package hundreds of chocolate gift boxes or granola bars.
“Valentine’s is a bigger month than other typical months, aside from the end of the year holidays,” said Nissen. “October, November and December are very high production times for us.”
Nissen recalls an order a bank placed for the holidays of 750 individual gift boxes of assorted chocolate. Another company ordered 1600 cases of granola bars to be gifted to clients and employees for the holidays. Corporations that order gift boxes can customize their packaging to put their logo on the front label.
“A good portion of our clients are local, but we ship nationally,” said Susan Gernhart, Director of Marketing and Development. “A lot of our advertising is through social media ads and posts. The Spectrum Bakes team makes a great product, so word of mouth also helps us greatly.”
Everything Spectrum Bakes sells is handmade, cut and packaged by the employees. With Spectrum Designs and Spectrum Suds in the mix, there is a lot of crossover between employees. “The employees on the spectrum get to see what they like to do and the responsibilities in different jobs,” said Nissen.
“Depending upon their skillset and what they’re comfortable with, we look at these individuals to potentially hire right into one of these areas,” said Nissen. “If they qualify, if they wanna do it, and if the skillset is there.”
Kelli Fisher works full-time at Spectrum Bakes as an Enterprise Assistant. Fisher is on the spectrum herself and works with other volunteers on the spectrum to coordinate operations at Spectrum Bakes.
“I love working for Spectrum Bakes. I get to combine two of my favorite things making delicious treats and working with people on the spectrum and helping make a difference in their lives. I get to be a positive influence on them and mentor. The workplace is always fun with all the different personalities that come work and volunteer here,” said Fisher.
Working and volunteering at Spectrum Bakes and the other Spectrum Enterprises offers a great opportunity for individuals with autism to socialize with friends, keep a healthy routine, get creative and have a fulfilling job where they can leave for the day with a sense of accomplishment.
“The employees and volunteers come in with their own ideas. They tell us what they make at home and what they’d like to try here,” said Nissen. “Kelli came up with the s’more idea, and we were able to develop that. We listen to everyone’s input, and they enjoy making it and being part of it.”
“We always talk about the non-tangibles,” said Gernhart. “Yes, earning a paycheck is a huge deal to some of these people, but they get to interact with their peers, make friends, boost their self-confidence and gain independence. You can’t put a price on that.”
The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Enterprises have five core values that they focus on. The five core values are people, professionalism, health, innovation and mission.
“The first core value is people; it is truly what Spectrum invests in the most,” said Gernhart. “Not just hiring and retaining people of all abilities, but seeing that they get training. There are opportunities for upskilling and acquiring new skill sets, leading to pay raises and promotions. That’s why our retention rate is over 90 percent. People don’t want to leave because they know we are invested in them and care about them.”
Visit spectrumbakes.org to check out the products and learn more.