The owners of Pirogue Pralines, Patrick and Bebe Bode, are everything that you would expect and more: warm, friendly, and infinitely likable. I was delighted to be offered a look into both their home and their business.
They didn’t disappoint. Upon my arrival at the Bode’s home, I was immediately welcomed in and made to feel like family. Patrick handed me a lovely, Mardi Gras inspired box full of their product, complete with purple, green, and praline (not gold) colored ribbon. After explaining to me the variety contained within (Pirogue Pralines is, to my knowledge, the only praline company in the New Orleans area offering flavors like hazelnut, white chocolate, wedding cake, and coffee), Patrick called the star of the company over to meet me.
“Hello. My name is Seth Bode, and I’m the Praline King.”
The words were accompanied by a somewhat hesitant handshake, and a small smile tinged with both a hint of pride and a bit of mischievousness. Seth Bode is a character, and it was immediately clear to me that he did, in fact, have the charm of royalty. After a brief moment of polite conversation with me, Seth, like all distracted monarchs, hurried off to attend to other things while I sat down with his parents to discuss the story behind this special company, and the unique young man who has become the face of the business.
Pirogue Pralines is a company born of a parent’s dream. Every mother and father want a place for their child where they can feel included. Every parent wants to see their child experience the joys of success and becoming self-sufficient. But for Patrick and Bebe Bode, seeing that dream come true for their son Seth would take a bit of ingenuity, and a lot of determination.
You see, Seth has autism.
Like many people with disabilities, Seth had difficulties finding employment once he left high school. The accommodations that had been in place during his education were absent once he tried to enter the workforce. Like many people with autism, Seth experiences sensory issues, which can lead to strong reactions to certain scents (pickles or seafood, for example) or to certain sounds. And it can be difficult to tell what he will have a strong reaction to, or when.
“It doesn’t come with directions,” Patrick tells me.
“As we are all unique individuals, [people with autism] are individuals, too.” Bebe agrees.
But those challenges don’t mean that Seth is incapable of working. Quite the opposite, in fact. When provided with an opportunity to volunteer at a local library, Seth out-worked paid employees due to his ability to hyper-focus on a single task. It got to the point that the library director came to Patrick and Bebe and told them that Seth couldn’t volunteer anymore – because the people in paid positions were letting him do all of their work. And they couldn’t hire Seth to work in those positions, because the state positions came with other responsibilities that were outside his skill set.
In other words, Seth needed to find a company that would create a position based around both his unique skills and his unique challenges.
This is where Pirogue Praline Company was born.
Frustrated with the lack of opportunity for young adults like their son, Patrick and Bebe sat down with their other son Parker to come up with an idea for a company that they could create where Seth would have a job specifically shaped to his talents. Inspired by a family friend, the owner of a company called Lucas Delivers, the trio created a family business where Seth could use his talent for organization, while his dad Patrick got to showcase his love of cooking.
“I had never cooked a praline in my life before,” Patrick laughs. “The first time we tried it, we put it in a pie shell and just made a pecan pie.”
“It didn’t set,” Bebe explains.
Eventually, though, they got it right, producing a praline that is just the right amount of sweet and creamy without the gritty texture that you find in some. It began with giving pralines away to friends and family and snowballed into people buying batches of them for their own loved ones.
The family then came up with the idea of adding flavors to separate their pralines from all of the other offerings in New Orleans. Their current selection consists of six flavors: original, hazelnut, white chocolate, chocolate chocolate, wedding cake, and (my personal favorite) coffee.
The plan worked. In the span of a few short months, Pirogue Praline Company has seen explosive growth and gained attention across the greater New Orleans area. Demand has gotten so high that the family kitchen will no longer accommodate them – they’ve had to borrow a friend’s commercial kitchen.
The family couldn’t be happier. It’s not only their dream for their son to be employed and have something to fall back on, but they also hope to grow the business to include other people with disabilities. “I’m all for honing in on a talent and expanding that talent to become a thing that can help support someone,” Bebe tells me.
Given the Bode’s passion for their family, their community, and their pralines – I am sure they’ll be a success.
Jenn Bentley moved to the city with her husband and family in 2016. She has worked as an editor and writer for the past 10 years working with publications like The High Tech Society, FansShare, Medium.com, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.