Grand Rapids Women Create Beer City Dog Biscuits, Support Advocacy and Sustainability

By Allison Arnold | photography courtesy of Beer City Dog Biscuits

Leslie Hooker, Tanis Hooker, Gavin Wilcox and Suzanne Wilcox

Beer City Dog Biscuits (BCDB) provides vocational training for adults with disabilities, allowing them the opportunity to be productive and gain essential skills, all in a safe and inclusive environment. Not only is it a women-owned venture focused on advocacy, but sustainability is at its core. Through a partnership with Founders Brewing Company, BCDB uses the brewery’s leftover spent grains.

Beer City Dog Biscuits started over a year ago, when Suzanne Wilcox and Leslie Hooker began discussing the future for their boys, both of whom have disabilities.

“The same thing that we want for our boys is the same thing that we want for our other children — for them to be happy, independent, fulfilled and contributing back to the community, and so we started brainstorming,” Wilcox said.

Brew Bakers work at Beery City Dog Biscuits

A friend of Wilcox had given her a bag of dog biscuits made by a group of high school students with disabilities. She went to the cupboard, pulled out the biscuits and said to Leslie, “Hey, what do you think?”

BCDB operate out of Central Reformed Church, baking between two and four thousand biscuits per day, four days per week, and providing work for 35 brew bakers, many from GRPS and Ready for Life.

“About 80 percent of adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities are unemployed so we’re trying to provide a sustainable solution for them,” Hooker said.

From mixing dough and pouring it into the dog-bone-shaped molds, to packaging and delivering the biscuits, the brew bakers engage in every aspect of the nonprofit, utilizing their own abilities.

“We realize that they require unique and emotional supports,” Hooker said. “They need supports to be successful and that’s what we’re really trying to build here so that they can stay with us or move on to another job.”

Adults with disabilities face many barriers when entering the workforce, particularly in the interview process.

“They’re underestimating the vast abilities that they do have,” Wilcox explained. “They can’t communicate it well, but they can show you, and most interviews aren’t going to be an interview showing me, they’re going to be an interview telling me.”

And, individuals that are employed are often not working to their full potential.

“They’re essentially underemployed, and not necessarily at the fault of the business owner. I think that they are just not vesting in the individual to really understand what they can do,” Wilcox said. “And that’s where the business owner has to have some awareness.”

Through a partnership with Founders Brewing Company, BCDB uses the brewery’s leftover spent grains.

BCDB takes an individual approach to each brew baker, providing the emotional support and structure for individuals to explore their talents.

“It’s just amazing how far they’ve all come…every day they’re doing more and more and taking on more responsibilities without us. We just kind of give prompts here and there, and just oversee it but they’re really doing the work from the beginning to the end,” Hooker said.

Wilcox and Hooker have seen an increase in leadership and initiative from the brew bakers, who are now starting projects on their own.

“A lady came in and was non-verbal,” Hooker expressed. “She has blossomed into the most wonderful, independent worker and takes such initiative. And her coordinators that come with her said, ‘we just didn’t realize that she had this ability because no one’s ever given her the opportunity.’”

BCDB is 100 percent nonprofit and every dollar made goes right back into supporting the mission and growth of the business.

“We‘re hoping that we are a model for other businesses,” Wilcox said.

You can find BCDB at 15 retailers and soon, at their website, including apparel. To volunteer or get involved as a brew baker, head to their website.

“Our brew bakers make us laugh, smile, every day,” Hooker expressed.

“It’s pure joy to come here, pure joy. I can’t describe it any other way,” Wilcox said.

Click here for a list of local retailers that carry BCDB.


Allison Arnold 

Allison Arnold is a freelance writer and avid adventurer who loves hiking, traveling and trying new foods. She loves writing about food and culture on her blog, For the Love of Tacos.

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