Alumnus becomes face of the Smiley Face Cookie Company


Media by Becky Kohler

Mark Kohler, Class of 2018, smiles while standing at the cash register at Pioneer Bakery Cafe. Kohler is now the face of the Smiley Face Cookie Company and works to decorate the cookies.

When Mark Kohler worked at the Pioneer Bakery Cafe, his outgoing personality and work skills eventually led to him being the face of the Smiley Face Cookie Company. 

Mark Kohler, Class of 2018, spends his early adult years working at the Pioneer Bakery Cafe through the StepUp program.

One of Kohler’s job’s at the bakery is decorating smiley face cookies, which are then sold at select Schnucks stores. Kohler is also pictured on these cookies. 

The StepUp program is owned by Lafayette Industries and individuals have the opportunity to work at one of their partnership worksites, Pioneer Bakery Café or McArthur’s Bakery, where the Smiley Face Cookies are produced.

McArthur’s bakery, which is the sister store of The Pioneer Bakery Cafe, is also partnering with Schnucks to distribute their “perfectly imperfect” cookies from their Smiley Face Cookie Company.

The cookies are decorated by individuals between the ages of 18-35 who have intellectual disabilities. 

He’s just like the perfect face to go on those cookies.

— Becky Kohler

“Once they complete the program, participants are supported in their transition to obtain and maintain competitive employment of their choice in the community,” said Emma Seyffert, StepUp Program Instructor. “And this allows them to gain independence while also earning their own paycheck.”

Molly Straumann, Special Educations teacher, says there are many different levels to the Lafayette Industries company. 

“The students start from basic training and move up and one of their full-time positions is working and making the smiley cookies,” Straumann said. 

Over time they expanded into other sectors which allowed for more kids to participate. They are also hoping to expand even further and eventually sell these cookies in all Schnucks stores and other various grocery stores in addition. 

Along with Kohler, two other past students of MHS, Sam Lesch and Colton Ruscutti are also currently involved in this program. 

Their past teachers Eric Kipp and Molly Italiano, special education teachers, say this is another opportunity for students to have a job, be involved with the community and be able to give back. 

Kohler has been involved with the program for two years now. 

Before finding the StepUp program, Becky Kohler was interviewing many places for Mark to go and had stumbled upon a flyer for the StepUp program. 

After interviewing with the program, Mark was trained and is in his second year in the program. 

Mark spends half his time learning skills that will better aid him in doing his job well at the bakery. When he is not in a classroom developing his skills, he is at the Pioneer Bakery Cafe cleaning tables, decorating cookies and working the register. 

“The goal is to have them take these work skills and apply it to an actual independent employment opportunity elsewhere,” Becky said.

The StepUp program has helped Mark in seeing what a job may be and feel like.

“I like working at the Cafe, and I like the people and what I do.” said Mark. “It’s helped me to work hard and follow directions.”

Due to the threat of Covid, participants of the program now are only able to be at the cafe once a week. Mark works at the Cafe every Friday and is happy to be in the program.

“Mark is very sociable and engaging with customers and is always smiling,” Becky said.

Mark has also left an everlasting impact on the lives of people in the community, one cookie at a time. “So he’s just like the perfect face to go on those cookies.” said Becky. 

“There’s a local barber, Tony, across the street who comes in and gets his coffee everyday and he and Mark have hit it off as friends.” said Becky “And Tony told me that sometimes if he’s having a really bad day he goes and visits Mark because he turns around his attitude because he sees him doing the best he can.”