When this entrepreneur with Down syndrome couldn’t find work at a bakery, she started her own
Cookie orders began flooding in just minutes after a segment about Collette Divitto, the owner of Collettey’s Cookies, aired on CBS Boston. Within days, Divitto had requests for 2,000 cookies. And that was November, before her story really went viral. Since then, orders have skyrocketed to 60,000.
Divitto, a 26-year-old entrepreneur born with Down syndrome, started Collettey’s Cookies after two years of futile attempts to find a job in an office or a bakery. The North End resident graduated from a program at Clemson University in South Carolina, volunteered at a public school, plays golf and swims, participates in the Special Olympics, and has a long list of other achievements. Her job interviews seemed to go well, but she never got the work. “They would write back and say they liked the conversation with me but it wasn’t a good fit,” says Divitto.
During high school, Divitto had taken some cooking classes and developed a passion for baking. Three years ago, she created a recipe for a delicious soft cookie, laden with semisweet chocolate chips and drenched in cinnamon sugar. She calls it her “Amazing Cookie.”
“That cookie was so good, we always told her, ‘You can sell this,’” says her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, and that’s exactly what Divitto decided to do. Resolute about proving her capabilities, she set up production and landed her first retail account, a neighborhood market, Golden Goose Market on Commercial Street in the North End.
“We told her we’d try them out,” says store manager Jesse Powers, and Divitto’s cookies sold well from the get-go. Once her story appeared on CBS Boston, though, Golden Goose simply couldn’t keep the cookies in stock, let alone fulfill orders for more. Divitto’s sister Blake, 22, who works in marketing, also posted the video on various social media platforms. “People were calling us from California, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, and Canada,” Powers says.
So, to keep up with demand, Golden Goose lends Divitto kitchen space with industrial mixers and ovens, and her family and friends work part-time churning out hundreds of cookies each night. Now Divitto also has a contract with CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester, where small food companies rent space and existing businesses get help with production. “We recently baked off 11,000 cookies over three days,” says CommonWealth Kitchen executive director Jen Faigel. “In another three days, we made 14,000.”
The young entrepreneur has been featured on “CBS Evening News” and “Good Morning America,” and has also been interviewed by Self and In Touch magazines, the website PopSugar, and others. People from all over the world, including celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Bridget Moynahan, have reached out to her on Facebook, inspired by her story.
“I knew Collette was capable of great things,” says Alfredo, “but she’s exceeded my expectations.”
Recently Divitto received several phone calls from Los Angeles. One was inviting her to bring a thousand packages of cookies to the red carpet gifting suite on the night of the Oscars: Her cookies will be included in the celebrity gift bags given out at the awards.
Others were from LA producers, offering all kinds of opportunities: a series, which would follow her day to day; a documentary. “We’re ready to sign a contract,” says Alfredo, excited but not yet ready to divulge the film company’s name.
CommonWealth Kitchen’s aim is to teach Divitto production skills so she can eventually bake cookies there with her own staff. Throughout all the attention she has received for her accomplishments and her “Amazing Cookie,” she has stayed focused on her overarching goal: “I want to hire people with disabilities and give them paying jobs,” says Divitto.
Collettey’s Cookies are available at Golden Goose Market, 179 Commercial St., North End, Boston, 617-367-3198. To order ($28.95 per dozen), go to www.colletteys.com.