ALGONQUIN (AP) – Kando Bakery has developed a successful formula for a startup company by providing a quality product that’s tied to a good cause.
But co-owners Valerie Peterson and Elena Nulle aren’t interested in profit margin.
Kando granola bars are jumping off the shelves, but the bakery’s more important role is providing a work environment for developmentally disabled adults to learn life skills.
“We make an awesome granola bar, trust me,” Peterson said. “But I didn’t get in this to sell granola bars. That is a means to the end.”
The end, Peterson said, is to have a fully operational bakery that gives young adults with disabilities a place to work upon graduating high school.
Kando Bakery began making and selling granola bars in October. At first, Peterson sold them at the school where she was a special education teacher. But she said she knew that if the business was really going to take off, she needed to give all her time to the bakery.
Peterson quit her teaching job and recruited her longtime friend Nulle to help her grow the business. The two have created a website, continue to sell in schools, and have begun selling the granola bars in two Fit Rx stores in Algonquin. Kando also has been contacted by a golf resort in Wisconsin, where they will begin selling the bars in the clubhouse and in food carts.
“More and more people are searching us out because we are new, and it’s something different,” Peterson said.
“We have a lot of people who will just call us, and we’ll deliver the bars,” Nulle said. “If you’re local, we have no problem delivering.”
The early success of Kando Bakery has been exciting, Peterson and Nulle said, but the business still has a long way to go before it is the ideal workspace for developmentally disabled adults.
Currently, Peterson bakes the granola bars in a commercial kitchen in Elgin. She partners with the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association to give the disabled adults a place to wrap and label the bars. Kando currently does not pay the employees, but that is set to change in April, Peterson said.
“Our ultimate vision is to have the bakery, an outdoor organic farm space, a storefront, and also offer some community living options and respite care for parents to utilize overnight,” Peterson said.
“The possibilities really are endless,” Nulle said.
A fully functional space for developmentally disabled adults to work is something McHenry County desperately needs, Peterson said.
Illinois ranks last in the country in funding for people with developmental disabilities, according to Clearbrook, which provides services for developmentally disabled children and adults in Illinois.
“I’m tired of waiting for the state,” said Peterson, who has a 21-year-old son with intellectual disabilities. “I’ll be long gone before the state steps up and does what’s right. These are citizens that deserve the same benefits as anybody else.”
Transitional programs for adults to enter the working world are particularly lacking, Peterson said. Kando would give parents a better option than keeping their children home all day or waiting for transitional housing.
Kando Bakery also donates 5 percent of its sales to different McHenry County charities, including the Northern Illinois Center for Autism and the Alexander Lee Center for Autism in Crystal Lake.
For Kando to become the work program Peterson wants it to be, the granola bars will need to keep selling, something she truly believes can happen.
“It has to work,” Peterson said, fighting back tears. “We can’t fail.”