SMILE Biscotti: Baking for a Brighter Future
Denise and her husband Rob Resnik of Phoenix, Arizona are forging a path for adults on the spectrum. From the time their son Matthew was diagnosed with autism, Denise had a clear understanding of what her life work was going to be. “He was going to be one of those kids who recovered from his autism. I was sure of it. We were going to do everything possible to make sure that happened.” Denise made it her mission that Matt had all of the therapies available to him. She was one of the original founders of SARRC, Southwest Autism Resource & Research Center. While Matt made progress through the years, the recovery Denise was so sure of, never happened.
Beyond his therapies, Matt attended public schooling during his childhood, adolescent and young adult years. He remained in a traditional school setting until his 22nd birthday and graduated May of 2013.
One of the biggest fears and unanswered questions for parents of children with special needs is, “what does life look like after aging out of the education system? What will happen to our child after we’re gone?” This was exactly what Denise and Rob pondered about their son’s future. But, rather than waiting for the answer to fall at their feet, they began exploring ideas of ways to provide Matt with structured and meaningful employment opportunities.
With the help of SARRC’s Rising Entrepreneurs Program and the dedication of Matt’s parents and family, SMILE Biscotti was born and incubated in their home using a KitchenAid mixer and a family recipe. SMILE was the acronym for Supporting Matt’s Independent Living Enterprise. It was originally designed to provide Matt with work opportunity and help him raise money for his future living expenses. The Resnik’s were able to start this operation with very little investment: no grants, no capital contributions and no donations. They learned quickly that forging partnerships in the community was the best way to ensure success. When they outgrew their home KitchenAid, they created a collaboration with St. Vincent De Paul, where they mixed batter in a commercial kitchen when not in use.
Today, SMILE Biscotti has built a team of paid employees and interns, most of whom are on the spectrum. Although they have come so far Denise jokes that, “SMILE is now in the awkward adolescent phase. We still have our braces on and are trying to figure out a good hairstyle.” They are working on how to get SMILE to the next level by transitioning the operations outside of their home. The vision is to fit the company to the employees’ various needs, fitting tasks to skills and allowing these tasks to be broken down into smaller steps when Matt and his coworkers are in need of accommodations.
SMILE Biscotti is for sale online (www.SMILEBiscotti.com) and in various locations all over Phoenix including select Sprouts Marketplace stores, Phoenix Sky Harbor’s Peet's Coffee, Terminal 4, Duck & Decanter and more. They have also broken into specialty retail locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and New Jersey.
What started out as a mother's mission to create a better future for her son has grown triumphantly into a social enterprise for creating a better life for many in the autism community. And the Resnik’s haven’t stopped there. SMILE now stands for Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise, designed to help other families replicate the model, build skills, develop work opportunities and create community. The entire process has become manualized and ready to help others facilitate opportunity for others like Matt. The first licensing opportunity started with a young man, Jon Heighten and his family who are based out of Dallas Fort Worth, Texas. To date Matt has not taken a paycheck, but that day will come. “We created SMILE for him and also for the greater good.”