THE BLIND BAKER: Rexburg woman starts cinnamon roll business despite disability
REXBURG — Leslie Alexander loves to bake and loves it so much that she started her own baking business. What makes her business truly unique is that she’s been blind for 18 years, but thanks to technology and her husband, Steve, she runs the aptly named “Specialty Cinnamon Rolls, Leslie’s, the Blind Baker.”
“I’ve baked my whole life. My dad was a baker. Both of his parents were excellent cooks as were my mother’s parents. The kitchen’s always been my happy place,” Alexander said. “I decided if I could have a business in my home, I could feel comfortable producing a product people would like and make them feel good.”
Alexander relies on a family cinnamon roll recipe created by her great-grandmother Lydia Svedine. The recipe has been passed down from one generation to another until it reached Alexander who now shares it with the community.
Steve serves as his wife’s driver as they deliver her rolls to residents and business owners between 7 and 10:30 a.m. every Monday and Friday. Alexander starts her prep work the night before and is up by 1 a.m. measuring, mixing, baking and frosting.
“I get up at 1 in the morning,” she said. “The people in my neighborhood say, ‘I got up in the middle of the night, and your lights were on.’”
All of Alexander’s ingredients are labeled digitally. She uses a PenFriend audio labeller that reads labels telling her which ingredients are in which containers.
“I don’t have to shake them and taste them. That’s been wonderful,” she said.
Alexander also relies on a scale that tells her how much various ingredients weigh. Her thermometer also lets Alexander know how warm her oven is.
Every Monday and Friday, Alexander cooks a dozen rolls at a time. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes for the rolls to bake. How many dozen she makes depends on how many orders she gets.
“I found that with putting two dozen rolls in the oven, they don’t get the loft I want them to get,” she said.
Shortly after the rolls finish baking, Alexander frosts them.
“They’re frosted when they’re warm,” she said. “I put the filling on the top of them.”
Alexander adds orange, apple pie and raspberry flavoring, as well as walnuts and raisins to her rolls.
Earlier this year, Alexander came up with a final business plan and opted to focus selling her pastries to business owners, public entities and residents. After visiting with residents, Alexander believed there was a market for her rolls, especially so during the early hours of the day.
“Hot and fresh rolls in the morning, that was appealing to them,” she said. “I believe there’s an audience for my rolls.”
Alexander opted for a Monday delivery, as that would provide pastries for employees throughout the week. Delivery on Friday would ensure that workers could take rolls home and have some over the weekend.
She’s already spent a significant sum in product development, equipment, ingredients, packaging and marketing. Alexander plans to apply for an Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired grant that will pay $3,000 toward additional startup costs.
Alexander said the grant would allow her to purchase a laptop with a software program designed specifically for the blind.
“I can use the keyboard, and it talks to me. As I’m typing, it will tell me what I’m typing and read it back to me,” she said.
Alexander also relies on her iPhone and iPad Pro that provide a voiceover function enabling the devices to “talk” to Alexander as she uses them.
Having her own business allows Alexander to be more independent, she said.
“If something were to happen to Steve or he was busy doing something else, I could function on my own,” she said.
Alexander lost her vision during a car crash 18 years ago as she and her husband drove down Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City during rush hour. An 18-year-old distracted driver, who had failed to register the car or to buy insurance, rear-ended them from behind. The impact sandwiched the Alexanders’ car between the offending vehicle and the car in front of them.
The impact knocked Alexander out, tore her brain stem and damaged an optic nerve. At the hospital, doctors told her she would never see again. That meant she had to quit her job working as a single copy sales manager for both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune.
Alexander says her blindness has provided her with the time to start a new business. It also gives her something to think about and to do.
“Given my disabilities, this business is something that can keep my brain busy and also allow me to be productive, by sharing something I love with others,” she said. “I’m excited to show others with disabilities they, too, can continue to do things they love.”
Alexander says she’s happy selling her rolls twice a week.
“I don’t want to get big enough so I’m not having fun any more,” she said. “I feel really comfortable doing my rolls two days a week.”
While losing her vision proved a challenge, Alexander said it’s shown that instead of having a disability, she instead has a different ability. She doesn’t see her lack of sight as a barrier but instead as a stepping stone.
“My business not only feeds my soul, but I believe (it) inspires others to realize their dreams, no matter their circumstances,” she said.
To order rolls, visit www.RexburgBlindBaker.com or call 208-993-3859.