Most people go into business for financial gain. But Erica Barr and her stepdaughter, Ashley, have a completely different goal in mind for their new business, Donuts to Dogtreats, in Charlotte. Of course, they need to be financially successful to keep their business in operation, but their real goal is to create a situation where Ashley and her friends can learn work skills and how to be good employees—and maybe make some spending money in the process, too.
They recently opened Donuts to Dogtreats, an indoor farmer’s market-type business, to accomplish this altruistic goal.
Ashley, who is 20 and is autistic, wanted to find a job but had difficulty in finding one that would suit her skills. She learned to make dog treats at school and had also started selling her hand-painted pet portraits. Barr suggested that they start a store where Ashley could sell her products and learn the work skills needed for future jobs. Ashley attends Eaton Regional Education Service Agency (Eaton RESA), and they are asking other RESA students to participate, plus other people in the area who are interested in selling their products on consignment.
Barr sees it as a place that will provide income, a place to go, a place to create art, and job training for RESA students. “Autistic kids like to isolate,” she explained, “so this will help them to be more social and learn to talk with people.” They are setting up a lounge in the back of the store for the students to play board games, craft, and socialize. The students can help by taking out the trash, restocking products, and do some cleaning, Barr said. Some of the parents are also volunteering at the store.
She plans on eventually being able to hire students to work in the store on Saturdays.
A friend helped Barr financially to get the business started. Barr works another job so she is learning to juggle a lot of different tasks to make all of this happen. She’s never really worked retail, so “We’re just winging it,” she said, but so far things are falling into place.
Barr is working on establishing the business as a non-profit so that any donations made can be tax-exempt for the donors.
Donuts and Dogtreats is located at the corner of Lawrence and Lincoln, a corner that sees 9-11,000 cars go by every day, according to Michigan Department of Transportation studies, Barr said. “We are super busy every morning for coffee and donuts,” she said, “and then again in the evening when people are on their way home from work.”
They carry a wide variety of items in the store, filling about 1,000 square feet of space. Meat is a big seller—they carry locally produced pork, beef, chicken, sausage, ham, burger, and ribs. Cheese is available, along with cheesecake and of course fresh donuts. Honey and Vermontville maple syrup is sold. Gluten-free products are available. Candies, both homemade and nostalgic brands, are available.
“I am so looking forward to summer when we will have vendors outside, including fruit and veggie sellers,” Barr said. “We have four farmers already booked.”
“We just want to help support the kids at RESA with craft projects, giving them the opportunity to learn skills and social opportunities,” Barr said.
“It also makes me feel good to support all the small businesses that have joined us in this venture,” Barr said. She offers a wide variety of Michigan-made crafts and food products. Many craft shows and other selling opportunities were canceled in 2020, so she is happy to offer the opportunity to those who were affected by the pandemic.
Donuts to Dogtreats is located at 634 West Lawrence and is open on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., on Thursday from 8 a.m. until noon, on Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Contact Barr through Facebook for more information or for a vendor application, or by phone at 517-581-1152.