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The management at Maryland Heights' Center for Head Injury Services had an idea. It was a trendy-food idea that has swept the nation, à la kale, bacon, pie, Chinese hot-pot dinners, et cetera.
The idea was cupcakes, but not just any cupcakes. These cupcakes, you see, would be baked by people with brain injuries, autism, and other cognitive disabilities. They would be sold via the trendiest 21st century food fad of all – the food truck. And the profits would all go back to the Center, to train and empower more people.
And then, thanks to a number of generous grants, the idea became a reality.
Just this week, the Destination Desserts truck hit the streets, parking where the other food trucks park, at BJC and Ameren UE and other established, regular stops. It's really happening.
How does that work, training people with extra challenges to man a food truck? Where can you find the truck? And, uh, what flavors do those cupcakes come in, yo?
The clients at the Center benefit from job coaches and other trained personnel that help them navigate the ovens, icing bags, customer interaction, and other vicissitudes of the job. Employees like Terri Lilly (pictured below, left) work with cool people like truck manager and driver Denise Samuels (pictured below, center).
“It's important to be patient and kind with our workers,” explained Center Social Enterprise Director and baker Cathy Villhard (pictured above, right). “It might take a little bit longer. Some of our workers, because of their disability or head injury, require extra attention. Some are really good at one task, and some can do multiple tasks. It depends on the person.”
The people at Destination Desserts are cranking out goodies like a Maple-Bacon cupcake that has that great lumberjack-breakfast-in-a-sweet taste. The Rocky Road cupcake is a rich, chocolate delight, and the Wedding Cake cupcake boasts a luscious buttercream icing. Other flavors include Orange Dream, Raspberry Chocolate, Banana, Cinnamon Roll, Black Forest, Caramel Apple, and more.
But wait—they bake cookies, too. The truck sells cookies in flavors like chocolate-chip, Lemon Zinger, and Pumpkin Spice, but our money is on the Shortbread Thumbprint cookies, which have that dry restraint of shortbread, not too sweet, perfect to enjoy with hot tea.
On a typical day, said Villhard, the truck offers an assortment of six cupcakes, four cookies, and a simple chocolate brownie. Customers may ask to have their cupcake heated in the truck's microwave oven for ten seconds, she recommended, for a warm delight.
Destination Desserts also offers smoothies in flavors including mango, strawberry, strawberry-banana, and four-berry, made with naught but frozen fruit, ice, and water. Diners may also purchase coffee drinks including espresso, cappuccino, and lattes from the mobile kitchen.
The bakers offering expertise for the venture include Villhard and Skip Guthier. The former once helmed the Batter-Up Cookies company, which offered custom shortbread “cookie bouquets” and the like as gifts and corporate thank-you's. Villhard also baked desserts for guests at Bissinger's at Maryland Plaza (flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee, etc.). Executive Chef and pastry guru Guthier was most recently an instructor at L'Ecole Culinaire, and boasts a resume that includes stops at Nadoz Euro Bakery Cafe, Lake Forest Pastries, Washington University, Schneithorst's, the Cheshire Inn, and the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis.
In only their second week of business, the truck will begin hitting the road early to sell breakfast, too. Visit the Destination Desserts' Facebook or Twitter pages to see where they'll be selling turnovers, scones, coffee cake, and muffins in the mornings, beginning next week. And look for them to offer cake balls and macaroons before long as well, said Villhard. The baker also stressed that the cupcakes, cookies, and everything else are great for corporate catering, which Destination Desserts is actively soliciting.
Destination Desserts is not only training challenged workers to man their own kitchen and truck, said Villhard, but to serve as productive employees at other bakeries in the community, too. The program includes funding for novice bakers who intend to spread their wings and work for outside food businesses, too.
That's a development that not only tastes good, it feels great.