The owner of Kim’s Cupcakery overcomes autism challenges to open her own successful, and life-changing, business.
Story by David Shroyer Photos by Robin Loznak
Choosing a career after high school isn’t just a tough decision; it’s a very impactful next step in figuring out one’s life path. Some find it an easy option: college or work. For Kim Miller, it wasn’t that cut and dried.
Miller is the 30-year-old owner of Kim’s Cupcakery in Roseburg. She also has a form of high-functioning autism. Her life path has been filled with obstacles, but she’s cleared them all on her way to personal and business success.
After high school, Miller knew she wanted to further her education, but after two years at UCC she began to feel hopeless about her life’s direction. With no vocation in mind, and struggling to figure out how to apply the talents she knew she possessed, depression set in.
Miller would have crying jags that lasted days. Her self-confidences began to wane and she began to stutter.
Her autism has made it hard for her to find work. One of her hurtles was the inability to communicate on the phone. She was a strong visual learner, but not being able to match visuals with the auditory – such as during a phone conversation – made it difficult for her to concentrate, recall conversations, or even remember the caller.
Miller also didn’t qualify for social security because she didn’t fall into the “right” autistic category.
“She was stuck between too autistic for a typical job and too typical for disability assistance,” says her mother, Eileen Miller. “She was in no man’s land,”
Miller desperately wanted to flourish at something, to let her creative mind go to work for her. Upon the advice of her mother, she began to bake. Her mother, a lifelong baker, felt the methodical steps required to follow a recipe might help ease her daughter’s mind. She was right.
Miller started baking cupcakes, first for a former teacher, then for her hairdresser. Soon, word about her creations started reaching a larger audience. She was quickly finding her niche. Her crying became less frequent, her depression eased, and her clientele grew.
“I find it therapeutic,” Miller says. “The step-by-step instructions, following a recipe, centers me.”
Now she was on the right path, but there were still many hurdles to clear. Still, she knew this was her calling. Eventually Miller was awarded a $10,000 grant from Vocational Rehabilitation, a state-run program that helps people with disabilities find their professions. It was a big first step toward Miller’s goal of owning her own bakery.
During this time, Kim’s grandmother passed away, leaving her and her mother an old farmhouse. The home was almost in a state of disrepair, but one long summer of hard work, Kim and her mother fixed up the farmhouse and sold it for a profit. With the funds of the estate sale in conjunction with Kim’s grant money, they were able to scratch up enough to make the plunge into a brick and mortar locale.
Today, with the help of the grant and profits from the sale of a farmhouse she and her mother inherited and renovated, Miller is in charge of her own boutique bakery, Kim’s Cupcakery on Stephens Street in Roseburg.
Miller makes the financial and marketing decisions, creates the recipes and designs, and greets customers. She even answers the phone and takes orders. Now she has the opportunity to express herself in many different ways, not just cupcakes, but also cakes, sugar cookies, puff pastries and more.
“I like presenting my things with style. I don’t like the same thing over and over, the repetition,” she says. “I do best when I have free reign.”
Miller uses baking to express her artistic talents. Cakes and cupcakes feature koala bears, barn scenes and cartoon characters. But her artistry is not confined to confections. Her bakery’s walls are lined with her artwork — sculptures, drawings and paintings.
The road to a successful career hasn’t been easy for Miller. It has required finding the financing, adapting recipes to unfamiliar equipment, developing a work schedule, strengthening her interpersonal skills and more. But she’s made it work.
After the doors to Kim’s Cupcakery opened a few days before Halloween, 2018 — 10 years after she graduated from high school — Miller found her former self again. Her crying spells completely stopped; her stuttering is gone.
“When we first started, I had to grow out of my shyness,” she says. I’d hide from people when they came into the store because that’s just me. But I had to step up. I knew I had to come out and meet them. I had to learn some etiquette.”
It was far from a cakewalk, but Kim Miller has found her destination.
Kim’s Cupcakery is located at 1157 NE Stephens Street in Roseburg, Oregon.