Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park bakes inclusion into its culture

Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability. 

Of that number, just over 19 percent have a job. With that in mind, parents in Oak Park baked up an idea that’s as sweet as pie.

Michelle Mascaro and her wife opened the Happy Apple Pie shop on Valentine’s Day of 2017. They created a blended work environment where people with and without disabilities work together.

"My oldest child Emily has an intellectual disability and severe anxiety disorder," said Mascaro. "Since middle school, we’ve been worried about where she would work. Working is very important in life, and about 90 percent of people with disabilities do not have employment."

Even the design of the open kitchen was baked into their culture of inclusion.

"For many years, the idea for work for people with disabilities was a sheltered workshop," said Mascaro. "You go off to a place, and they worked in a warehouse, putting things in boxes and off by themselves with maybe a supervisor. That didn’t lead to a sense of wider community and didn’t bring them face to face with other members of the community. So here, we’ve created a place where you come in and can see people working in the kitchen."

The Happy Apple Pie Shop isn’t just a local gem. They received national recognition for having the best pie in the state of Illinois. They serve at least three different pies every week and, of course, all of the employees have their favorites.

"Top two are lemon chess and the chocolate chess pie," said Lainie, one of the longtime employees of the Happy Apple Pie. "My dad and I are chocoholics. And the lemon is just really, really good. Especially in the summer because it reminds me of lemonade."

The Happy Apple Pie also uses local ingredients. Their apple peels go to the Glen Art goat farm in the Austin neighborhood. Then they use the goat milk in the quiches they sell. They also have vegan and gluten-free pies as well.