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 just months apart. From that time, they made a vow—they would do everything in their power to help their boys thrive. Years later, when they discovered relaxing salt and lavender soaks calmed their boys, an idea for Beloved Bath was born. They would make salts, soaps, candles, and bath products and create meaningful employment not only for their sons but other adults with autism too, filling the need to help this highly underserved community. From its tiny start in a basement kitchen to the recent move to a brighter and newer studio in downtown Maplewood, Beloved Bath has grown into a successful brand and empowering experience for all. We chatted with these Essex County mamas about how their idea became their mission, how their backgrounds prepared them for a bath business (hint: Pam was a baker), and their fave Italian joint in Maplewood that’s also the company’s unofficial meeting place.
Please tell us a little 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 attends Garden Academy in West Orange. We live in Maplewood.
Pat: My husband, Vincent, and I have been married for 27 years. We have 23-year-old twin boys, Vincent Jr. and Phillip, and John, 20, who attends Somerset Hills Learning Institute. We live in West Orange.
What made you decide to start Beloved Bath?
Pat: We have the same hopes and dreams for our kids–we want them to live happy, dignified lives. And, we both looked at the grim statistics that 80% of autistic people are unemployed or underemployed regardless of where they sit on the spectrum. We knew we needed to do something big to make life better for our sons and others facing those same statistics.
Pam: We had the idea for Beloved Bath when we discovered the magic of relaxing salt and lavender baths. The boys were more calm, centered, and happy after a soak. We mixed our own, and Justin and John enjoyed making the bath mixtures with us, and eventually, we branched out into other products when we moved forward to create the business.
Why do you think employers are reluctant to hire people with autism?
Pat: Unfortunately, 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 in the way we’re accustomed to, and people are uncomfortable or scared of things they don’t understand. And these businesses are missing out on the best employees ever because of it. When you hire an autistic person, there might be a bit more training required initially. Still, they will take pride in their work, and chances are you will wind up with one of the hardest working, reliable, responsible, driven employees you’ve ever had.
You recently moved into a new space. How has that changed your business?
Pam: We officially launched in 2016 and got a positive response, so we quickly got our website up and running to accept orders and payments. Because the reaction to the homespun version of our business blew us away, we were ready to take a leap of faith and go with it. When we first started, I had a second kitchen in my basement we used as a soap, bath salt, and candle studio. Eventually, it began to spill out into many of the other rooms in my home, and we realized we needed a space that was better suited to the needs of our business, and we’re thrilled about our new studio.
Pat: Our goal has always been “meaningful employment for people with autism,” so we need to give our employees the best experience they could have. Our new space is large, bright, and happy, and smells amazing because of our products. It has beautiful natural light and can accommodate all the manufacturing and packaging workstations in the same large area. So whether our employees are working on candles, soap, shrink wrapping, or packing orders, they’re close enough to engage with each other. It’s tough for those on the spectrum to make friends once their formal schooling ends, so work-wise, we try to pair those who are on similar autism levels, so there’s a social component as well. And even though our two boys are not conversational, they still enjoy being part of the team and others. They feel like they are part of something and not pushed aside. That feeling of belonging is priceless and a huge part of what we’re trying to facilitate for all.
How has your career background helped with opening Beloved Bath?
Pam: I was a teacher in New York, and I have my master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education. I’m also a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA), and with that, I’ve worked with schools and different individuals with autism. I’ve also worked in a pastry department and consider baking a hobby. Baking is very similar to what we do to create our products. There’s lots of measuring and mixing involved. One employee of ours says that we do baking for the bathroom, which makes me laugh because it’s accurate.
Pat: I graduated school as a Psychology Major and then got an IO Psychology Master’s degree while working at Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in Hospital Administration. After my son was diagnosed with autism, I co-founded Garden Academy with Pam and other parents before returning to work as the Director of the Cancer Center at St. Barnabas Medical Center. I also spearheaded a program of ambassadors for autistic patients to have a better experience at the hospital, which proved to be very successful. When I left the hospital four years ago to run Beloved Bath full time with Pam, these experiences were valuable in building the business.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Pat: When the pandemic started, we expected business to slow down, but our corporate customers (who had traditionally bought from us for the holidays) started buying soaps with special messages on the labels for the frontline healthcare workers. It kept our business going, and our online business took off. We also had many people purchasing for self-care and sending products to their loved ones because they couldn’t be together, but they still wanted to connect.
Please share one of your “proud mom” moments.
Pat: When John was young, he was deathly afraid of the water, and we’ve always been a big beach family. We found a Special Ed swim instructor who worked with him tirelessly 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 in the Special Olympics State NJ Games.
Pam: My philosophy on life is that I act like the good moments are forever, and the bad ones are only temporary, and I take mental snapshots of great moments and play them over in my mind. I have this one memory of the boys being small and sitting in their car seats in the back of the car. They were holding hands and tickling each other, and laughing. It was a rare and special moment then, but I hold onto it and savor it. Steven is his brother’s best teacher and cheerleader. He sticks up for him and pushes me to do more, and lets Justin do more. And now and then, they’ll shut the door and have brother hangout time just having fun together, just like typical siblings. Proud mom moment, 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 it with his determination to play the guitar. He’s so focused on learning how to play—his determination makes me proud.
What are some of your local go-to businesses?
Pam: Perch Home in Maplewood is extra special–it has the most beautiful gifts, and their 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’s no stigma at all for kids with special needs. Linda’s Creative Gifts in New Providence is another favorite. It focuses on artsy goods, everything from cool tie-dye tees to handmade jewelry, and we love that the owner uses her shop to support small, local 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 love. When we were first planning our business, we had many strategy meetings there.
What’s the best piece of advice you can share with another mompreneur just starting?
Pat: Do not be afraid to dream it and do it. If you have a dream, a reason, a need—make it happen! The community will always embrace those that want to make good things happen.
Pam: Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Things don’t always have to be perfect from the beginning, and it’s better to be done with something than to be perfect. Of course, it’s essential to pay attention to the details, but not at the expense of moving forward. You can always fix the little things later.