PLYMOUTH, Minn. (FOX 9) - A Chanhassen couple started a dog treats bakery to give young people with disabilities work experience. Now, their business is growing by leaps and bounds and is expanding beyond Minnesota.
As a 30-something who has cerebral palsy, Lauren Ireland says it can be difficult to find a job. Twice a week, she works as an ambassador for Finley's Barkery at grocery stores and pet shops around the metro.
"I love getting out,” said Ireland. “I actually live in a group home and it can be taxing at times. It’s good for me to get out and enjoy life."
FOX 9 first covered Finley's a couple of years ago. Special education teachers Kyle and Angie Gallus started their own business to hire young adults on the autism spectrum and with other intellectual disabilities. At the time, the employees baked, packaged and sold the tasty treats online and at special events, like dog shows, to earn some dough of their own.
"One of the important skills and reasons why Finley's Barkery exists is to really get them out into the community,” said Kyle Gallus, Finley’s co-founder. “We are more than just a dog treat. We are a social opportunity. We are a social enterprise that invests in people."
Since then, Finley's has shifted its focus from creating jobs for people with disabilities to donating half of their profits to national organizations that help the disability community. The treats are now manufactured by an outside vendor and are going from being available in about 25 stores in Minnesota to nearly 1,000 around the Midwest.
"When I take a step back and look at where we were two years ago to where we are now and realize this is something we dreamed up and we had no idea we would grow to this level," said Gallus.
Finley's still employs a half dozen ambassadors to promote their merchandise and mission at stores like Chuck and Don's. Ireland says she'll continue to work for them as long as she can.
"I think it’s good for people to actually experience people with disabilities along with the treats and people understand better what it’s doing and what it’s going towards," said Ireland.
Finley's treats are available at stores across the Midwest, but they will soon roll out to stores across the country by the end of the year.