Lee & Maries Cakery- Lovingly supporting those with Autism Spectrum Disorders

When you stroll into Lee & Maries Cakery at 40 South Pointe Drive, on the fringe of South Pointe Park, the first thing you notice is the cozy décor…country style wood hutches filled with knickknacks, like antique tea pots, stuffed animals and framed family photos, gingham printed benches around the rugged wood farm table, a marble top counter with stools and lots of awards and acknowledgments…Best Bakery, Sponsor and Supporter Awards for participating in benefits for Cancer, Special Olympics, and Autism Awareness events etc.

On the front window and inside on the chalkboard menu is the Mission Statement:

Our mission is to build profitable businesses that will create jobs and employ adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders).  We help guide them on a path to greater independence, so they can achieve their highest potential and enhance their quality of life. Our business model will crate awareness for this underemployed and undervalued population and demonstrate the positive effect these opportunities will have on an entire community. 

Entrepreneur and owner, Andrea Trafaglia, beams with pride as she speaks about the past two years since Lee & Marie’s opened.  Her vision, prompted by a close friend’s challenge parenting a son with ASD, has become a reality as she has created both a safe, loving and welcoming work environment for a number of young adults diagnosed with Aspergers and other high functioning Autism Spectrum disorders and a successful and delicious bakery in South Beach.

ASD, is a neurological disorder that affects one in 68 and one in 42 among boys ( CDC reported statistics as of  March 2014).  Although not a visibly noticeable physical disorder, it can effect some motor skills, social skills and can manifest itself sometimes in rigid routines or inflexible behaviors.

The Cakery, open since 2012, is open Monday-Thursday from 7 am to 3 pm, and Friday-Sunday 7 am to 5 pm, and offers a variety of fine freshly baked goods, baquettes, croissants, muffins, cakes, and light lunch fare like quiches and sandwiches all prepared either on the premises, or in her professional kitchen located off 20th Street in Wynwood.

On an early Tuesday morning, I met Andy at the kitchen in Wynwood to meet her pastry chef, Chef Ricardo Murillo, and his team of chef assistants.  The kitchen, spotless and smelling of fresh croissants and blueberry muffins baking, was busy, as assistant chefs, Yohanna and Jose, worked diligently making vegetable quiches and sautéing toppings for the sandwiches.

Chef Murillo, in his chef’s coat emblazoned with Le Cordon Bleu at Miami Culinary Institute, and who trained in France, shared with me how he had lived all over the world, as Executive Pastry Chef both locally for Barton G, but also for Le Meridien hotels and in Abu Dhabi and throughout the Middle East.

A retired Culinary Arts teacher at Miami Culinary Institute, he was approached by Andy about heading up the kitchen and mentoring her aspiring chefs…many who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorders resulting in difficulty with social interactions and flexibility.  Chef Murillo offers them a chance to learn a real skill…cooking, while also developing better social skills and self-confidence through successful interactions with the other team members and customers.

Chef Murillo, who came to the US from Colombia 35 years ago, gave me a tour of the kitchen, the prep areas, ovens and special racks where the bread and croissants are stored and “proofed” to activate the yeast to make the breads rise.  I asked him why he chose being a pastry chef, and he jokingly remarked,     “ I’ve enjoyed spending my life making people fat and happy! “ and added, “ I can’t even cook rice”.

I spent a few minutes also with Yohanna, who is on the ASD spectrum, and has been in the Wynwood kitchen since Lee & Maries opened.  He moved here with his family from Ontario, Canada when he was 16 years old and his specialty today was making the daily quiches. Proudly, he showed me the crust currently in the oven.  Today’s special was to be a vegetable quiche.  He said he always enjoyed cooking and has learned a lot from Chef Murillo.

Chef Murillo requires his team to come to work each day dressed professionally in full chef garb…the white chefs coat, a cap, apron and chefs pants and clogs.  He feels having a standard “uniform” adds a level of professionalism and sets a high standard for his team and helps them build confidence in what they are doing.

I then headed over to Lee & Maries in SoFi, where the morning service was in full swing.  Behind the counter were an assortment of flaky and buttery croissants, best sellers were the plain and chocolate croissants, pecan rolls, muffins, scones and a variety of cookies, cupcakes and artfully designed custom made cakes.

Coffee options included Café Con Leche, Cappuccino, and Macchiato and were served in large china cups, or “to go” for a stroll through the park or on the beach a half block away.  Seating is available either inside at the farm table or counter or outside at café tables and chairs.  Daily newspapers from Miami and New York are available and there were a number of regulars enjoying the Miami morning.

As I settled into one of the outside tables, just knowing the story of Lee & Maries and Andy’s passion for giving adults with a disability the opportunity to grow and lead productive lives made my almond croissant and cappuccino taste just a little bit sweeter.

Lee & Maries Cakery

40 South Pointe Drive

305 672 5167