by David Chapman
For Leigh Forrester, the Bark ‘N Howl Bakery is baking with a cause.
The former North Florida School of Special Education development director wanted an avenue to provide young adults with intellectual disabilities an opportunity for real-life experience and on-the-job vocational training in a friendly business environment.
She founded the Career Frontiers of NE Florida Inc. nonprofit with Martha Sawyer in 2009 and searched for the right format. Coffee shops and ice cream parlors were options.
But then Forrester heard of the idea of a bakery specializing in dog treats and she was sold.
“It’s an easygoing and nurturing environment,” said Forrester.
So, beginning in their home kitchens in August 2009, the two began baking sessions with young adults and it was a hit. Now, the program is four days a week, two days each in kitchens donated in San Marco and Jacksonville Beach. Several students parlayed the experience into regular jobs.
“They are amazing,” said Forrester of the program’s students. “Honestly, they’re talented and they really just want to work. They are the perfect employees.”
From the ever popular Peanut Butter Paws to the Beefy Bones, all of the gourmet dog treats are created with natural ingredients and sold, with proceeds reinvested in Career Frontiers.
Beginning at 9 a.m. on bake days, students, with the assistance of trainers and vocational specialists, pull out recipes, utensils, ingredients and bake the assortment of treats until around noon. Generally, a typical day produces 2 to 4 pounds of dog biscuits, which the students sort, package and label to be shipped to people who place their orders online at www.barknhowlbakery.com.
Orders are $5 for a half-pound of treats and $10 for a full pound for most of the bakery’s items.
It’s not uncommon for certain treats to run out of stock, especially around the holiday season following Halloween, said Forrester.
She often generates much interest from civic organization members or passersby at events such as the Riverside Arts Market, although sometimes samples are snagged and snacked on before she can tell the hungry person they’re dog treats.
“And sometimes after I tell them, they just keep eating them,” she said.