A sweet honor for bakery co-founder

Sara Portman Milner is a Washingtonian of the Year.
Photo courtesy of Café Sunflower

There’s no crown for the 2017 Washingtonian of the Year, no gold medal. But there is lunch. That’s appropriate for Sara Portman Milner, co-founder of Sunflower Bakery and one of 10 people the glossy Washingtonian magazine declared this week “make our region better.”

It isn’t just food — muffins, bars, cookies, cakes, pies and cupcakes — from the nonprofit bakery that Milner founded in 2009 with Laurie Wexler that is improving the regional quality of life. Sunflower Bakery, based in Gaithersburg, prepares young adults with learning differences for employment in pastry, baking and related food industries. Its Café Sunflower, in Rockville, offers training in customer service skills and business operations.

That was food for thought for Leslie Milk, Washingtonian’s lifestyle editor, who leads the annual search for outstanding locals.

“I have known Sara Milner for a long time,” Milk said. “She is providing real work opportunities for people with learning disabilities.”


Milner, 69, calls the experience of those trained in the bakery and café “transformative.” Some graduates have gone on to work at Founding Farmers, Safeway and Clyde’s, among other businesses.

“For people who try and fail so much, when they succeed it’s awesome,” Milner said.

She’s looking forward to the Jan. 11 lunch at the Willard Hotel, when she and the other Washingtonians of the year each have 60 seconds to address the diners.

“I want the movers and shakers there to know we’re making a difference in people’s lives,” Milner said, adding she’ll have to say her thank-you’s separately.

That goes for lunch, too, for which she’s appreciative. “They were happy to accommodate kosher meals for my table.”

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