We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Parkes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Sparkes Kitchen uplifts individuals with disabilities and creates a more diverse and inclusive workforce while baking delicious reimagined Eastern European desserts.
Every Friday afternoon growing up, I would come home to the smell of my mom’s freshly baked mandelbread, a traditional Eastern European Jewish dessert that resembles biscotti. It was something I always looked forward to and helped her bake throughout my childhood. When I went off to college, I began tweaking her recipe and inviting friends over to taste test each batch. After graduating college, I entered into the workforce as an educator for young adults with disabilities to teach employability skills. After work, I started baking mandelbread for friends and family. Through my work in the disability field, I noticed the benefits of meaningful work experience for individuals with disabilities and how they are often overlooked and underestimated in the workforce. During the beginning of COVID, I had more time to sit down and think about what a mandelbread business could look like and how to plan out running my own small business. My ultimate goal is to employ people with disabilities at Sparkes Kitchen to provide meaningful employment opportunities. In the meantime, while I am growing my business, I donate a portion of my proceeds to nonprofit organizations that provide vocational training to individuals with disabilities.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I have started teaching baking classes for individuals with disabilities to teach workplace skills and kitchen safety. It has been such a meaningful experience to share a recipe that reminds me so much of home with new people that love to bake and eat as much as I do! I have always felt like the best way to get to know someone is through food – it gives people a comforting environment to share themselves with others and, especially with baking a family recipe, I learn more about other people’s family, culture, and traditions.
One of the aspects of my business I get most excited about are my subscription boxes. Each month, I create a featured flavor of mandelbread accompanied by another dessert that puts a spin on traditional Jewish desserts. For example, for the month of June I am baking Cookies and Cream mandelbread and Cookies and Cream Rugelach. I love learning about food history, and so creating a new dessert each month gives me the opportunity to learn about Jewish dessert and it’s origins and share that with my community.
Starting my own business was definitely not easy, and still isn’t. I am recognizing that there are a lot of things I don’t know and most of the time my own fears get in the way of my success. I’ve learned so much about myself throughout the process and can look back and feel proud of how far I’ve come and what I still want to achieve.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I can only give recommendations about NYC hope that’s ok!
I would first start off with bagels in Central Park. I started going to the park more during COVID to see friends outdoors, and have since loved the community it creates among New Yorkers. It often feels like the one place in the city where you get “free space.” I would then go for an ice cream tour. While I am a mandelbread fan through and through, my first dessert love was ice cream. A few places I have loved and frequent are – Cafe Panna, Sundaes and Cones, il laboratorio del gelato, Ample Hill creamery, and Mikey Likes It. If you’re in New York City, you have to see a Broadway show accompanied by a dinner on Restaurant Row. I’ve always loved Becco’s – it’s basically like a Brazilian steakhouse but with pasta.
While most of my recommendations revolve around food, I would also walk around downtown with friends in Soho, West Village, and Lower East Side. It’s a great area to walk around and experience everyday life in NYC.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My mom! Not only was her mandelbread recipe the inspiration behind my business, but also without her eagerness to share her recipe with me and encouragement to make it my own, I would have never thought about modernizing her recipe. My mom and dad’s support to bounce ideas off of, share my good news, help with packing up big orders, and ask for advice has been invaluable.
Facebook: Sparkes Kitchen
Other: Tiktok: @sparkeskitchen