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Boston’s Queen of Cookies is Bettering Disability in the Workplace
Knocked from jobs for not being “the right fit,” Linktree Passion Fund recipient Collette Divitto turned her love of baking into a booming business.
Collette Divitto wants to make one thing clear: her mom did not teach her how to bake. “She works for me,” Collette says. “She didn’t teach me about baking. I actually learned baking all by myself.” It’s evening in Boston and Rosemary, Collette’s mom and business manager, is also on our Zoom call.
“For years people would be like, ‘Oh, did your mom teach you how to bake?’ And she’d be like, ‘No!’’” Rosemary laughs. “No matter who she talks to, she always makes sure she tells them I don’t know how to bake and she didn’t learn it from me.”
Baking is serious business for Collette, who has Down syndrome. She is the founder of Collettey’s Cookies, a baked goods company that has become a runaway success in just five years.
It’s a business with a purpose beyond just selling tasty treats (though they are, by all accounts, particularly delicious). Collettey’s Cookies employs differently-abled people, providing job options that are sadly scarce elsewhere. Already, the company boasts a staff of 15—Rosemary included—with things poised to get even bigger from here.
Fuelling some of the momentum is the fact Collette is one of winners of the Linktree Passion Fund, an initiative that this year distributed a total of $250,000 USD to 30 different creators and entrepreneurs. The aim of the Passion Fund was to give passion pursuits like Collettey’s Cookies the financial support they need to grow.
And for Collette, passion powers everything she does. The path to her founding Collettey’s Cookies began back in high school, when she first discovered the healing powers of getting behind the oven.
“I never really raised Collette telling her she was Down syndrome or treating her any differently,” Rosemary says. “She was really popular when she was younger. But as she got older and her life wasn’t really paralleling some of the other kids, high school was really, really hard on Collette.”
Rosemary enrolled her in baking classes, where she thought Collette would feel more included than she would in the likes of maths or science. Collette loved it.
“She realized that she felt good baking,” Rosemary says. “She’d bake something and it would be really good and everyone would be like ‘oh my God, this is really good!’ So that became addictive for her.”
As Collette puts it: “I love baking, it’s who I am.”
Collette started Collettey’s Cookies after facing a different set of challenges as an adult. When she kept getting knocked back for jobs, launching the company was a way to take matters into her own hands. “No one would hire me,” Collette says. “So I thought I should open my own business.”
One day, she took some samples of the cookies she was baking at home to a local market. They loved them and immediately ordered 100 packets. “She fulfilled the order,” Rosemary says. “And we started her business immediately that week.”
Together, mother and daughter hit the ground running. They set up Collettey’s Cookies as a business in three days, before she delivered the 100 packets. Collette’s first batch of cookies sold out in a couple of days and another order was placed. Things haven’t stopped since.
Now, though, Collette’s days look pretty different to when she first started back in 2016. Today, Collettey’s Cookies is run out of a commercial kitchen in Boston. Collette spends her days training employees, taking business calls and overseeing packaging and shipping. But she still rolls up her sleeves when the occasion calls for it. Recently, in fact, she rocked up to the kitchen at 3am to make 70,000 cookies in one day for a big order.
Growing the business hasn’t come without logistical hurdles. It took 18 months for Collette to figure out how to make her recipes work when she’s baking in bulk. That’s because Collette will only accept the best: “I’m so picky with my recipes and my cookies,” she says. “[Every cookie] has to be perfect.”
But one thing that will help the business scale up is a new walk-in freezer, which they have ordered with the money from the Passion Fund. It will allow them to store things and “get ahead of the game, especially in the lead up to the holidays”. The long-term game plan is to expand Collettey’s Cookies to more locations, so that they can provide employment for differently abled people around the U.S.
And it’s not just Collettey’s Cookies that Collette is hard at work on. She’s also published one book with another on the way, has her own TV show (“Born for Business,” on Peacock), teaches baking classes, runs a blog, and regularly appears at speaking events.
Having her finger in so many different pies makes social media essential for Collette.
“I think social media is the reason the company is on the track that it’s on, because so many people want to support her,” Rosemary says.
“We try to share as much as possible just to show people that she lives a very parallel life to everyone else, because we think that’s important, for people to start treating people with disabilities more equally. But it’s really what’s grown her company, because people have become such a fan of Collette’s that they just want to give her business.”
Linktree is a way to connect all the different threads of her work in one link. Collette’s Linktree is “so loaded up because she does so many things”. But, Rosemary says, “That’s what’s so great about it—it’s not [just] Collettey’s Cookies [we’re selling].”
When the creator behind it all is someone as likeable as Collette, it’s easy to bring audiences on board.
“And it’s so interesting because on her social media, we’ll post really awesome pictures of her cookies and we’ll get a pretty good amount of engagement. But we could post something of Collette in her pajamas and it’s like, 10 times that. So it’s become clear that it’s really Collette’s story that has created and continues to create her company’s success,” Rosemary says.
That, and one other thing: “I mean, her cookies are really good too!”