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Pioneer Bakery empowers people with disabilities like TikTok star Derek Baker

The sweet spot opened last fall in Kirkwood with a mission of turning disabilities into possibilities

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Every bakery has its secret ingredients and the Pioneer Bakery in Kirkwood is no exception.

"We are known for our classic cakes, gooey butter cakes, donuts and danish," said proud owner Scott Rinaberger.

But their recipe for success isn't just what they're serving but who's serving it.

One of Pioneer's hardest workers is the aptly named Derek Baker.

"When he's at work, he gets serious you know and takes his responsibilities the way I would hope every employee would," Rinaberger said.

But like the desserts they serve here, Derek has many layers. Serious yes, but silly too. It may help explain why he's become an internet star.

"So Derek has this very infectious personality, he's always talked about having his own YouTube Channel," said Jenna Baker, Derek's sister.

Shortly after the pandemic hit, the family started sharing Derek's video clips on YouTube and TikTok and the "Baker Banter" pages just took off. 

"Five-hundred views and then 1,000 views and 4,000 views then 20,000 views and it just grew and grew and grew," she said.

Now, he's up to 2 million followers and counting.

"It feels amazing!" Derek said of his internet stardom.

Derek is one of 12 workers at Pioneer that came through the Step-Up program at Lafayette Industries, a non-profit packaging business that employees hundreds of adults with disabilities.

"We're focused on developing coping strategies, professional communication, problem-solving," Stacy Elster of Lafayette Industries said.

Too often, people like Derek are underestimated.

"He's not given enough credit for as much as he does know and understand," his mom Valerie Baker said.

While many restaurants were forced to close during the pandemic, Pioneer opened last fall with a mission to turn disabilities into possibilities.

"When you have this sort of a program that's designed for adults with disabilities with an owner like Scott, who has a heart to help people with disabilities, it's huge," Valerie said.

The Pioneer Bakery hopes this concept — like their cupcakes — is addictive.

"It's kind of like doing the wave," Rinaberger said. "A few of us get up and try to do the wave and it dies out. We just got to get more and more momentum going, so maybe if I'm doing it, it will get a couple more businesses to do it and the wave will take off."

A bakery whisking up guidance and opportunity where the delicious desserts are just icing on the cake.