Austin is amazing, fun, and special because of its people. Yes, there are a lot of transplants, including me, but y’all made this city too lovable for us to stay away. I officially blame you, the locals, for making me fall in love with this city. Speaking of locals, I recently had a chance to meet a young lady named Katie. I learned about her from my office manager, who had circulated a flyer about her wonderful service, Katie’s Snack Cart.
Katie was born with Autism and cognitive impairment, which has interfered with typical learning abilities. But trust me when I tell you that nothing stops this 22-year-old. Wendy, Katie’s mother, along with teachers, friends, and family members, have put in exceptional effort to avoid letting a disability get in the way of Katie achieving regular life milestones.
How Did Katie’s Snack Cart Begin?
As Katie entered adulthood, Wendy and Katie’s teachers at McNeil High School started brainstorming ideas for a potential career. A cart borrowed from the school library enabled a trial run of Katie’s Snack Cart. Teachers and students served as the first customers.
From there, the snack cart visited family members’ offices. This served as a beta test for the concept and created the perfect stage for ironing out any wrinkles.
The business itself is a simple concept: Katie and her crew bring snacks of all kinds right to your desk. The cart is stocked with prepackaged items like trail mix and chips. It also features fresh items like gluten-free cookies and other baked goods, as well as lemonade. The idea is to introduce healthy snacks which are otherwise hard to come by during the 9-5 grind.
A “Social Enterprise”
Wendy describes Katie’s Snack Cart as a “social enterprise.” She emphasizes the business is exactly that–a business–and not a charity, as people sometimes perceive it to be. Katie’s Snack Cart operates like a business, complete with city permits to sell snacks and a commercial kitchen for producing baked goods.
Most importantly, Katie’s Snack Cart provides employment opportunities for people with special needs. For instance, the commercial kitchen employs three bakers with special needs, giving them the opportunity to use their abilities for meaningful work they enjoy.
Selling snacks also provides Katie a chance to develop and improve communication skills. These interactions give the community a chance to get to know and learn to communicate with those who have special needs.
A new fixture at Katie’s Snack Cart is Riley, and his smiling face. Riley and Katie have been buddies for a long time. Riley has high functioning autism, and enjoys being part of something bigger through employment at Katie’s Snack Cart.
As with any business, Katie’s Snack Cart has its own set of challenges. To begin with, the business has had to scale quickly. Wendy is stunned by the success. At the same time, she struggles to cope with the sudden growth.
An easy way for the community to get involved and help is through volunteering. Wendy has also expressed a need for mentorship when it comes to running a small business.
Another unexpected challenge has been designing a cart Katie can operate with little struggle. After some experimenting, a handle was added to a rolling cart, to make it easier for Katie to pull. As Wendy puts it, “Katie’s a puller, not a pusher!”
Of course, the easiest way to get involved is by donating. Katie’s Snack Cart will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the near future. Funds will be used for SCORE mentorship, business administration, renting more commercial kitchen space, increasing service areas, and more. Watch for the campaign on the company’s Facebook page.
An Exceptional Treat Indeed
Aren’t Katie and her snack cart an amazing combination? If your office happens to be one of the lucky places serviced by Katie’s Snack Cart, remember to say hello, and maybe buy a cookie. If you haven’t had a visit yet, you can contact Katie’s Snack Cart through katiessnackcart.com.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What are your favorite Austin-based social enterprises?