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‘Something that needs to happen’: Pastry shop that employs people with autism to open in Gainesville
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A New pastry place, Puzzle Piece Pastries, is opening where the old Pizza Hut is on Thompson Bridge Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

A pastry shop is replacing the old Pizza Hut on Thompson Bridge Road, and it is being built with a special need in mind. 

Puzzle Piece Pastries is “going to be a special needs bakery, where we’re going to employ people on the spectrum, on the autism spectrum,” said Matt Kahn, a Gainesville father whose teenage son has autism. 

It will replace the old Pizza Hut built in 1988 at 1398 Thompson Bridge Road. In January, the city council approved a developer’s request to build a dental office on the site, but that plan has  been scrapped. Heather DeWeese, who works for the city’s planning department, did not immediately have more information. 

Kahn hopes to open in the next three to four months, though he said he’s in no rush. Planning is still in the very early stages, he said. He got the keys a couple of weeks ago, and they’re still scrubbing the floors. 

Puzzle Piece Pastries adopted its name and logo from a symbol that has become associated with autism — a puzzle piece, used by the nation’s largest autism advocacy group, Autism Speaks. 

Kahn’s inspiration comes from a visit to Special Kneads and Treats, a family bakery in Lawrenceville that employs special needs adults, providing work experience, job training and socialization. 

“Autistic people have a very hard time finding employment, and so it's just something that needs to happen in the community,” Kahn said. 

He and his family moved from Santa Clarita, California, “partly because they have a lot of autism services here,” and he wants to do his part locally. 

The shop will sell all manner of pastries and sweets — cakes, brownies, cookies, but also coffee and tea and perhaps sandwiches. . 

But “it's more about training people,” Kahn said. “And I'm hoping the community will see autistic people working there and hire them.” 

“That's just as important as selling whatever product we're going to sell,” he said. 

Kahn said the Puzzle Piece Pastries is a certified nonprofit, and all proceeds will be used to provide job training to those with special needs. 

But why pastries? 

Kahn said the repetitive nature of pastry making is suitable for people on the spectrum. 

“When you decorate this brownie or cupcake this way, it's always the same way, and so following lists, or step-by-step, is something autistic people actually do very well.”