After meeting when their older children were toddlers, Pam Kattouf and Pat Miller, our NJMOMpreneurs of the week, grew even closer when their youngest sons, John and Justin, were diagnosed with autism within months of each other. From that point on, they made a wish: they would do whatever they could to help their boys thrive. Years later, when they discovered that relaxing salt and lavender baths calmed their boys, an idea for the beloved bath was born. They were making salts, soaps, candles and bath products and would create meaningful employment not only for their sons but also for other adults with autism, thus fulfilling the need to help this very underserved community. From its beginnings in a basement kitchen to the recent move to a brighter, newer studio in downtown Maplewood, Beloved Bath has become a successful brand and an inspiring experience for all. We chatted with these Essex County moms about how their idea became their mission, how their background set them up for a bath business (Hint: Pam was a pastry chef) and their favorite Italian restaurant in Maplewood, which is also the company’s unofficial meeting place.
Tell us a bit about your family.
Pam: My husband Jonathan and I have been married for 22 years and we have two boys, Steven, 21, and Justin, 20, who attend Garden Academy in West Orange. We live in Maplewood.
Tap: My husband Vincent and I have been married for 27 years. We have 23 year old twins, Vincent Jr. and Phillip, and John, 20, who attend Somerset Hills Learning Institute. We live in the west of Orange.
What made you decide to launch Beloved Bath?
Tap: We have the same hopes and dreams for our children – we want them to live happy and dignified lives. And we’ve both looked at the grim statistics that 80% of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed, no matter where they are on the spectrum. We knew we had to do something big to improve the lives of our sons and others facing these same statistics.
Pam: We got the idea of Beloved Bath when we discovered the magic of relaxing salt and lavender baths. The boys were calmer, centered and happy after a bath. We mixed ours up, and Justin and John enjoyed making the bath mixes with us, and eventually we got into other products when we decided to start the business.
Why do you think employers are reluctant to hire people with autism?
Tap: Sadly, too many young adults in the autistic community are sitting at home doing nothing. Many employers don’t give them a chance because they can’t communicate the way we’re used to, and people are uncomfortable or afraid of things they don’t understand. And these companies are missing the best employees ever because of it. When you hire someone with autism, a little more training may be required upfront. Still, they’ll take pride in their work, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with one of the most hard-working, reliable, responsible, and motivated employees you’ve ever had.
You recently moved to a new space. How has this changed your business?
Pam: We officially launched in 2016 and got a positive response, so we quickly set up our website to accept orders and payments. Because the reaction to the in-house version of our business blew us away, we were ready to take a leap of faith and go for it. When we started I had a second kitchen in my basement that we used as a soap, bath salt, and candle studio. Eventually this started to spill over into many other rooms in my house, and we realized we needed a space better suited to our business needs, and we’re excited about our new studio.
Tap: Our goal has always been “meaningful employment for people with autism”, so we need to provide our employees with the best possible experience. Our new space is big, bright and cheerful, and smells great thanks to our products. It benefits from beautiful natural light and can accommodate all the manufacturing and packaging stations in the same large area. So whether our employees are working on candles, soap, shrink wrap, or packaging orders, they are close enough to engage with each other. It’s hard for people on the spectrum to make friends after they finish school, so when it comes to work, we try to match those with similar levels of autism, so there is a social component as well. And even though our two boys don’t speak, they still enjoy being part of the team and the others. They feel like they’re part of something and not being left out. This sense of belonging is priceless and is a big part of what we try to facilitate for everyone.
How has your professional background helped you to open Beloved Bath?
Pam: I was a teacher in New York City and have a masters degree in early childhood and elementary education. I’m also a Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and with that I’ve worked with schools and different people with autism. I have also worked in a pastry department and consider baking as a hobby. Cooking is very similar to what we do to create our products. There are a lot of measurements and mixtures involved. One of our employees says we bake for the bathroom, which makes me laugh because that’s right.
Tap: I got my graduate degree in psychology and then got a masters in psychology from IO while working at Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in hospital administration. After my son was diagnosed with autism, I co-founded the Garden Academy with Pam and other parents before returning to work as Director of the Cancer Center at St. Barnabas Medical Center. I also ran an Ambassador Program for Autistic Patients for a Better Hospital Experience, which has proven to be very successful. When I left the hospital four years ago to run Beloved Bath full time with Pam, these experiences were invaluable in building the business.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Tap: When the pandemic started we expected business to slow down, but our corporate clients (who traditionally bought us for the holidays) started buying soaps with special messages on the labels for frontline healthcare workers. line. This kept our business going and our online business took off. We also had a lot of people buying to take care of themselves and sending products to loved ones because they couldn’t be together, but they still wanted to connect.
Please share one of your proud mom moments.
Tap: When John was young he was terrified of water, and we’ve always been a big beach family. We found a Special Ed swim instructor who worked tirelessly with him and got him to stand on the first step of the pool. Then with a lot more work, he was able to stand on the second step. And ten years later, he was swimming a 400-meter freestyle and eventually won a gold medal at the Special Olympics State NJ Games.
Pam: My philosophy in life is that I act like the good times are eternal, and the bad times are only temporary, and I take mental snapshots of great times and replay them in my mind. I have this one memory of the boys being little and sitting in their car seats in the back of the car. They were holding hands, tickling each other and laughing. It was a rare and special moment then, but I hang in there and savor it. Steven is his brother’s best teacher and cheerleader. He stands up for him and pushes me to do more, and lets Justin do more. And every once in a while, they’ll close the door and spend some sibling time and having fun together, like typical siblings. Mom’s moment of pride, indeed. Also, I feel so proud when Justin does things that people don’t expect him to do. He has minimal fine motor skills, but you wouldn’t know that with his determination to play the guitar. He’s so focused on learning the game — his determination makes me proud.
What are some of your must-see local businesses?
Pam: Perch Home in Maplewood is very special – it has the nicest gifts, and the packaging is the best, bar none. We also love Words Books – it’s so welcoming, plus they have a great selection of books, and there is no stigma for children with special needs. Linda’s creative gifts in New Providence are another favorite. It focuses on artistic products, from cool tie-dye tees to handmade jewelry, and we love that the owner uses her shop to support local small businesses. And Village Trattoria in Maplewood is definitely our go-to. The food is always fresh and delicious, and everyone can always find something to like. When we first planned our business, we had a lot of strategic meetings there.
What’s the best piece of advice you can share with another new mom-taker?
Tap: Don’t be afraid to dream it and do it. If you have a dream, a reason, a need, make it come true! The community will always embrace those who want to do good things.
Pam: Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Things don’t always have to be perfect from the start, and it’s better to end something than to be perfect. Of course, paying attention to the details is essential, but not at the expense of moving forward. You can always fix the little things later.
For more information on Pam Kattouf, Pat Miller, and Beloved Bath, visit their website, Facebook and Instagram pages.
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