Hersey student with Down syndrome starts dog treat company, sells out of them in 2 hours
Peanut butter and bacon is Wyatt Nelson's favorite flavor.
The dogs seem to like it, too.
Nelson, a 15-year-old freshman at Hersey High School with Down syndrome and autism, took some of his favorite ingredients, combined his love of cooking with his love of dogs, and started his own business, a dog treat company called Wyatt's Dog Company.
"Peanut butter and bacon," Nelson, who sometimes has difficulty communicating his thoughts, shyly confirmed as his favorite flavor through his mother, Deborah.
Wyatt makes the treats, which are similar to cookies and shaped like bones, at home and sells them on Facebook, through mail orders and from a small display in the back of the Sunflower Boutique in Arlington Heights.
All the profits go to special needs therapies and charities.
On Saturday, Wyatt, his mother and Mary Schaefer, the owner of Sunflower Boutique, were on hand at the boutique to hold an outdoor meet-and-greet and special holiday sale. The treats sold out in less than two hours.
"Wyatt is going to be on a career and life skills track, and we were talking about what he wants to do when he gets older and we were going through his favorite things, things that come naturally to him, and the top two were dogs and cooking," Deborah Nelson said. "We foster dogs and Wyatt has a penchant for special needs dogs. He spends a lot of time with a dog named Elmo with three legs.
"In October, Wyatt said that he wanted to make trick-or-treats for dogs, and I said, 'Oh, perfect time to launch your business.'"
And so Wyatt's Dog Company was born. From there, Wyatt and his mother researched dog foods as well as the things that dogs like and the things that aren't healthy for dogs.
The family came up with all kinds of natural ingredients that Wyatt mixes himself. The cookies are baked and then brushed with some duck fat or bacon drippings to give them added flavor.
Flavors included in the holiday sale on Saturday included Turkducken, Sweet Potato, Peanut Butter-Bacon, and Thanksgiving Turkey and Mashed Potato.
Wyatt beamed at Sunflower while watching his treats catch on in popularity.
"Today was a culmination of everything," Deborah Nelson said. "He prepared a fresh batch yesterday and packaged them and practiced a speech that he said today at the meet-and-greet. ... We had about 15 dogs and 50 people come out today. This has been great for him."
Schaefer, the owner of Sunflower, spent a career as a special-education teacher in Des Plaines before retiring and purchasing the boutique earlier this year.
Owning a business "gives him more of the hands-on teaching that is not going on right now in schools because of hybrid learning, and it gets him more acclimated in the community that he is going to be a part of (as an adult) and it gives him confidence," Schaefer said. "Folks are coming in here and going directly to Wyatt's little corner (display), and they love it and they love his story. It's so touching."
To purchase the treats, visit Sunflower at 620 W. Arthur in Arlington Heights, or go to facebook.com/wyattdogcompany.