Starting a business at 22 would be a tremendous endeavor for any young person, but the venture was even more extraordinary for Collette Divitto, who started Collettey’s Cookies in 2011. Collette was born with Down syndrome, and after being turned down for various jobs she decided to take her passion for baking from hobby to career. She started out selling her “Amazing Cookie” at just one grocery store, but after she was featured on a CBS News program in 2016, her business exploded. To date, Boston-based Collettey’s Cookies has sold over 180,000 cookies and now employs 13 people, several with disabilities.
Tell us the story of how Collettey’s got started?
I took baking classes as an elective in my sophomore year. I thought it would be helpful for when I lived on my own. I had no idea I was going to love it so much and be really good at it.
Is there a secret to baking the perfect cookie?
Yes. Well, it is not really not a secret, but it’s all about patience and love. You have to take your time to measure perfectly and you have to love what you are doing.
What’s been the hardest thing about running your own business? What’s the most rewarding?
The hardest thing about running a business is that you never stop thinking about it and how you can improve it. You worry about it making money. The most rewarding part is you get to give jobs to people who are struggling to find work, and you get to build a caring team in your company. And, of course all the lovely messages from my customers about how much they love my cookies. It makes me feel valuable and loved.
What’s it like to go viral? Are you surprised by the “fame?”
It was a little confusing at first because for years I was always trying to fit in and be accepted. I was rejected and sometimes made fun of or teased. To wake up one day and have so many fans and followers was really confusing. Why now? Why couldn’t I have fans and friends before I started? I mean it’s great now, I get nice emails and messages everyday which makes me feel accepted and even admired, which I never thought would happen.
Tell us about your employees. We know you make an effort to hire people of all different abilities.
My employees are awesome! They are grateful and become a part of my team; we are like family. Giving someone a job that is struggling to be accepted and employed makes me so happy, because that was me just a few years ago.
What’s next for Collettey’s?
I have a book coming out. I am writing a series of books for different ages that are based on my life and my experiences, which I hope will help others. I am also working on a documentary and I am determined to bring enough awareness to change the unemployment rate [for people with disabilities]. So many people with a labelled disability that are capable of work cannot find work or are underemployed. This is so upsetting to me I want to use my platform to change this.
I also want to open other baking locations with other organizations to keep employing across the country. Every cookie I make represents jobs.
What are your goals, beyond the cookie business?
It’s always about family for me. To spend more time with them, travel to my wish-list places, give back to my mom and take care of her. On a fun note, I’d love to be in a movie!
What’s the message you want to give the world about people with Down syndrome – or any other special needs?
There are a few things I always say:
No matter who you are you CAN make a difference in this world.
Don’t let people get you down.
Always want the best for you!