MACHIAS, Maine — Few people who get their Coolatas at the Machias and Calais Dunkin’ Donuts know that some of the money they pass through the window goes toward local services for the disabled.
“We fly under the radar,” said Thomas Michaud Jr., general manager of the Machias restaurant. “Most people think of Dunkin’ Donuts as ‘corporate,’ not a locally owned franchise.”
In addition to managing the coffee shop, Michaud is also assistant financial director of Sunrise Opportunities, a nonprofit group that serves disabled people in Washington County. Sunrise Opportunities directly benefits from the two Dunkin’ Donuts stores.
It took about 30 years of bean supper fundraisers before the Washington County Association for Retarded Citizens could purchase its first Dunkin’ Donuts in 1993. Since then, it has opened another in Calais. The association uses revenue from the restaurants to fund Sunshine Opportunities.
“We wanted to get away from public money,” said Sharon Dean, executive director of Sunrise Opportunities and the association. “WCARC looked into a franchise. They thought a franchise may be less risky because you’re not starting from the ground up to start a restaurant. They tell you what to do and how to bake the doughnuts and we could use that level of expertise.”
In addition to injecting money into the nonprofit when needed, the restaurants also help give some of Sunrise Opportunities’ clients a job. The two Dunkin’ Donuts have about 45 employees, including a few with disabilities.
Working at a small-town Maine restaurant often requires a lot of multitasking, which can be difficult for people with mental disabilities, Dean said.
“Usually there just isn’t enough profit to have someone to sweep the floor or do just one small thing. They have to bake and run the cash register and sweep, a lot of things. But we have managers who will separate that out so that it helps people with mental disabilities who can’t do everything,” she said.
One Sunrise Opportunities client works at a Dunkin’ Donuts a couple times a week just to bake doughnuts. Another person cleans for a few hours.
“They get paid the regular wage everyone else gets — not lower because they can’t do as much. That’s the benefit of a sympathetic management,” Dean said.
“I oversee a lot of the employment for the Dunkin’ Donuts,” Michaud said. “I see a lot of people who hire turn people with disabilities away because they can’t perform the tasks or they can’t keep up, but at Dunkin’ Donuts they are doing excellent.”
Sunrise Opportunities doesn’t include the restaurants’ revenue in its budget, instead looking to that money for backup.
“When we need something, we can go to [the Washington County Association for Retarded Citizens],” Dean said. “Sometimes there just isn’t enough government money to run a program. Rather than shut the programs down, we use the money available from Dunkin’ Donuts while the state works out their budgets.”
Dean and Michaud didn’t want to point out which programs were saved or how much money from the for-profit business goes to the nonprofit organization out of fear that legislators would use the information against the agency.
Scott Schnapp, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, said there are dangers in bringing attention to nonprofit groups that also run for-profit businesses.
“People at [Maine Department of Health and Human Services] might say, ‘Why can’t you be more like Skills Inc.? They’re entrepreneurial.’ But that’s not the point — the mission is to serve people who need services,” Schnapp said. “If you can do it, good for you, but it’s not the only answer, it can get overstated.”
There is also the likelihood that the business may fail or too many resources may be dedicated to the business and not enough to the nonprofit mission, he said.
Even Skills Inc. — a St. Albans nonprofit group with at least six businesses in the fold — worries about this. Skills Inc. has owned a lumber mill for more than 30 years. It has thrift stores, a redemption center, a computer restoration store and a new business that sells office services to other nonprofit groups, according to Skills Inc. CEO Tom Davis.
The businesses connected with these nonprofit groups don’t receive any state money and must pay taxes like any other business.
“There will always be people who say you shouldn’t do that, or that you have a competitive advantage — but that’s fiction, we don’t. We don’t use state or federal money to subsidize these businesses. We use capital they generate. We ran one that didn’t work, a dog and cat kennel we ran failed. Running a business that fails is no fun.”
For Skills Inc., it has been worth the risk. One-third of its $18 million budget is funded by the businesses, Davis said. Also, those businesses have hired about 50 of Skills Inc.’s clients with disabilities, he said.
“It’s terrific to have a revenue stream not dependent on government. We’ll continue down this path as long as we’re able to.”