By Patrick Newhook/May 5, 2022
It’s a typical day for Leah McDonald. The Conception Bay South woman comes home from her part time job and puts on her other work uniform, her apron. She then begins working at her passion, her bakery Neurodiverse Nummies.
Her evening has a typical routine to it, filling out orders and preparing cheesecakes for awaiting customers The small business started in April 2021 when McDonald came up with a way that she could raise money for her student loans while also spreading autism awareness.
“I have Asperger’s Syndrome and one day I was at Michael’s and saw this really, really cute candy mold. I was like ‘I need this in my life,’ so I picked it up and I made some fruit snacks like gummy jell-o puzzle pieces, and I thought they turned out pretty good and it sort of gave me an idea. Why don’t I maybe try selling these?’” said McDonald.
The name of the business came from Asperger’s itself. McDonald said the syndrome involves having a neurodiverse brain and personality. Hence the name Neurodiverse Nummies.
Despite her optimism, McDonald had to close an earlier, similar business venture because so many people misinterpreted her product, thinking the nummies contained marijuana.
“I lost count how many stoners were messaging me about THC content,” said McDonald.
It wasn’t until a bit later when she made a cheesecake for a friend and received an offer to make a second one for money that McDonald realized she might have another business venture.
“So, I’ve been making cheesecakes ever since and selling them and it’s been going a lot better,” she said.
McDonald runs the whole operation from her house. She decided to get involved with a Youth Ventures Program offered through the Empower The Disability Resource Center that helps people in similar situations.
Through this McDonald got to compete in a business pitch competition. Described as being like Dragon’s Den, the competition had people in McDonald’s program pitch their business ideas to judges.
“It was a lot like Dragons Den,” said McDonald. “Each participant had 10 minutes to present and pitch their business to the panel of judges and the top prize was a full-page ad in The Herald.”
McDonald placed third in the competition and won the special judges award for Customer Engagement.
“Along with my regular cheesecakes I also cater to people who have food intolerances and dietary restrictions,” McDonald said. “I can make cakes that are sugar free, dairy free, gluten free, lactose free, anything like that. The judges were really impressed with this, and they loved how inclusive that my cakes were, and they gave me a customer engagement award for that and I was really, really proud of it.”
McDonald admitted she was also really proud of herself.
“It feels great to be able to say that I did so well in that competition and that I am the third best business owned by a person with a disability and the customer engagement award is definitely the thing I’m most proud of, my first ever award as a business and it’s for my inclusive cheesecakes. Inclusivity is a big thing that’s important to me, so I am really happy that I was recognized for that,” said McDonald.
Asperger’s, meanwhile, has posed challenges. One of the biggest for McDonald is with math.
“I have dyscalculia, which is a math disability, so my brain really struggles with math. So, I don’t know how I managed to become a business owner and have to do all kinds of calculations and recipes and money. I mean I’m happy with how my life turned out but that is one of the biggest challenges, the money aspect,” said McDonald.
Another newer struggle is the rising cost of food. Trying to keep on top of inflation while also pricing accordingly has proven to be a challenge.
But McDonald said, while there are struggles, the upsides make it worth it.
“Definitely getting to do what I love and make a bit of money off of it and seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they see my cakes and making people happy makes me happy,” said McDonald.