Teaching Skills and Changing Lives, One Pie at a Time

Special Touch Bakery creates artful and delicious pies while teaching intellectually and developmentally disabled people life skills.

It’s as easy as pie to convince guests to try dessert – if you know the secret. Pies from Special Touch Bakery are a delicious way to finish any meal, and their secret ingredient is love.

Foodservice operators love Special Touch Bakery pies for their easy-prep simplicity. Customers love the pies for their dreamy flavor. But the love comes full circle when people learn the story behind the pies. 

It’s that story that makes the bakery a great partner for the Gordon Food Service Goodfinds by Gordon program, which celebrates food that not only tastes good but does good for people and the planet.   

The 20,000-square-foot bakery in Rochester, New York, offers meaningful employment to people of all abilities. They are hired and trained through a collaboration between the bakery and Holy Childhood, a nondenominational vocational program focused on helping people facing life challenges.

“A baker is a baker, and that’s it,” President and CEO of Special Touch Bakery CEO Donna Dedee said when describing the company’s team. “We are not defining people because they may have different abilities, we’re celebrating everyone’s unique abilities, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Everyone Is a Pie Baker at Heart

The pastries are as close as you get to the love baked into grandma’s holiday pies. The formula has been so successful that today Special Touch Bakery not only works closely with Holy Childhood but also connects with other habilitative agencies and school programs in the area.

The bakery employs 35 people, with almost another 20 in some form of vocational training to prepare them for competitive employment. With an unwavering commitment to believing everyone, disabled or non, deserves a chance to showcase their abilities, the bakery is proud of its diverse workforce. 

Each team member is recognized as a baker and cross-trained to perform just about every aspect of the production process.

“Maybe they start out cleaning pans or in the mixing room, and then they come out to the pie line,” Dedee said. “We’re trying to provide diverse experiences, and the people we refer to as bakers have done every job in the facility.

The team takes such pride in its tasks that when Dedee pitches in during a busy time, “they always tell me I’m doing it wrong. They take great pride in their work.”

A Large Selection of Pies

And their effort pays off. Last year, the bakery produced 1.8 million pies focused on six categories:

  • Gourmet fruit pies
  • Natural juice pies
  • Traditional pies
  • Sugar-free pies 
  • Dessert pies 
  • Cream pies 

All of the pies come frozen. The fruit pies are ready to bake, while the cream pies and the dessert pies are as simple as thaw-and-serve.

“It’s a pretty diverse portfolio. The sweet spots are our natural juice pies and cream pies,” said Mike Mirabella, the company’s vice president of sales. “We have all of the common pies, plus some unique flavors that separate us from our competitors.”

Every pie that comes with a pastry top also is available as a crumb top, making them an artisan product.

A Pie Bakery With Humble Beginnings

The roots of Special Touch Bakery reach back to the middle of the 20th century when Holy Childhood opened its doors to help people struggling to cope with challenges. Its purpose was to nurture skills and prepare people for jobs in adulthood.

By 1982, Holy Childhood launched a pie-baking activity that became so popular among families and friends during its first year that a naming contest was held, resulting in Special Touch Bakery pies that were sold to the public.

Fast-forward a few decades and many pie flavors, and Special Touch Bakery moved into its current wholesale production building.

“We’ve always been nimble in wanting to meet customer needs, and when Gordon Food Service told us we would be included in the Goodfinds program, it said to me we were doing some things right,” Dedee said.

A Partner Focused on Doing Good

Special Touch Bakery not only provides opportunities for people with special needs, but it also gets involved in the community. There have been fundraisers and collaborations, such as working with a local retail doughnut company to use pie fillings in the doughnuts.  

Unique events aside, Special Touch Bakery is strictly a pie company, focused on doing what it does best. There are no pie-in-the-skydreams of cakes or cookies or other confections. But when it comes to pies, the bakery is developing a new flavor profile expected to be released during the fall and winter holiday season.

“We pride ourselves on being a partner with the organizations we work with,” Dedee said. “We’re not everything to everybody, so we are pretty strategic about who we partner with, and our values align with Gordon Food Service.”

Mirabella agrees: “We are really doing something special here, and the name speaks to that.”

But the name leaves out one big part of the story. For its workers, Special Touch Bakery isn’t just a 9-to-5 job. It’s about building skills and creating meaningful and enjoyable opportunities. 

The special ingredient: a labor of love.

Shop Special Touch Bakery and learn more about other Goodfinds by Gordon partners to enhance your menu.

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