Creating community one pie at a time

Happy Apple Pie Shop is more than a new business focused on sweet treats – the mom-and-pop operation is on a mission to help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Owner Michelle Mascaro hopes to open her new shop in one of five storefronts being carved out of the shuttered La Majada Mexican food restaurant, 226 Harrison St., Oak Park, later this fall. Mascaro says she began thinking of starting the business – she co-owns Happy Apple with her spouse Corynne Romine – about two years ago, primarily because of her teenage daughter Emma, who has an intellectual disability.

“We’ve always been concerned about where she will work,” she says, noting that Emma is a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

The idea originally started as a cupcake shop, suggested by a parent and friend who also has a child with an intellectual disability, but the cupcake craze seemed too trendy for Mascaro.

“I’m a cook,” she says. “I cook to relax and I love to make pies.”

She says pie making is perfect for her future mixed workforce, which will include those with intellectual disabilities and those without. “The goal was to make a blended work environment for people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities to work together,” she says.

“This model is really about making all people part of the community,” she says.

Mascaro launched her business in September 2015 and began working with intellectually and developmentally disabled students at River Forest Kitchen, a relatively new business that provides certified kitchen space for food startup businesses.

She enrolled local students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their parents to participate in what she calls “big bakes” in time for Thanksgiving and made 100 pies for their first batch.

She says the new space on Harrison Street will have a small dining area that allows customers to see directly into the kitchen “so nobody is hidden away.” Happy Apple will offer pie by the slice, coffee and whole pies to take home.

She already is planning to work with Aspire and Opportunity Knocks, both organizations that provide opportunities for those with developmental disabilities.

Mascaro says she hopes the business will inspire other companies to employ workers like her daughter. “They don’t need to be hidden away, and they don’t need to have pity; they need meaningful work, and I think we can accomplish that,” she says.

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