Coffee Shop Chain Run by Employees With Down Syndrome Opens Its Third Location

Coffee Shop Chain Run by Employees With Down Syndrome Opens Its Third Location

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a shop located in Wilmington, North Carolina, is much different than rest of the coffee shops all across America. The coffee shop is known for its warm cup of coffee and the warmth it provides to the community. Amy Wright, founder and CEO of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, started her journey in 2016. Her vision gave many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities a new outlook on life. Amy Wright has two children with Down Syndrome, Bitty and Beau, who the coffee shop is named after. When Wright and her husband became aware of the fact that fewer than 20% of people with a disability are in paid employment and nearly 70% of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have jobs, they decided to find a solution.

Bitty & Beau’s first Coffee shop opened in of January 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina, and immediately had lines out the door.

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Image: Danielle MacInnes

“It hit me like a lightning bolt; a coffee shop!” Wright said. “I realized it would be the perfect environment for bringing people together. Seeing the staff taking orders, serving coffee — they’d realize how capable they are”.

The store began with just 18 employees and grew to employ around 40 people. Soon after its opening, Bitty & Beau’s first Coffee shop gained popularity throughout America. National press attention only brought in a fleet of customers who wanted to not only get their daily dose of coffee, but also enjoy the warmth and love.

The shop has unique staff members that are always taking orders or serving with a smile.

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Image: Nathan Dumlao

Almost everyone who works at the coffee shop has an intellectual or developmental disability, ranging from Down syndrome to autism to cerebral palsy. For many employees, it’s their first job, and their joy fills the air. The community’s support and love gives these unique individuals a normal chance at life. For them, the chance to be around others, work and spread their smiles, makes them feel just like everyone else. It also provides them with an opportunity to show the world that their disability is not an inability.

Six months after the first store was opened, the outpouring of love and national coverage brought in so many customers that Bitty & Beau’s Coffee shop had to move to a larger location to accommodate them all. Today, the Wilmington store employs 40 people with disabilities, as well as two managers who have degrees in special education. Together, the team works like a well-oiled machine.

“Our wait time is no longer than any of our competitors,” Wright said. “They’ve all gotten really good at their jobs and step up if somebody else needs help”. The profits from the coffee shop goes straight to Wright’s nonprofit, Able to Work USA.

Wright is proud of the bridges her shops have built in the community.

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Image: Bitty & Beau’s

With more than 70% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) unemployed nationwide, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee shop has managed to create a path for them to feel more valued, accepted and included in every community.

“Creating this has given people a way to interact with people with disabilities that (they) never had before,” she said. “This is a safe place where people can test the waters and realize how much more alike we are than different. And that’s what it’s all about”.

In 2017, due to her advocacy work for people with disabilities, Wright won the CNN Hero of the Year award, which provided her with a $100,000 toward her cause.

In February 2018 in Charleston, SC, the second location of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee opened, and it now employs around 80 people. The second store was again appreciated by the community, who not only support the cause, but also interact with the disabled to make them understand that they are loved and appreciated. On January 20, 2019, the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the third Bitty & Beau’s Coffee took place in Savannah, GA. The third store is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and is also the official coffee of the “Rachel Ray Show”.

Wright revealed that her plan is to open Bitty & Beau’s Coffee shops all over the country in the next few years:

“Our hope is that other businesses will see our success and realize the importance and benefit of hiring people with intellectual disabilities. When other businesses begin to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this will truly affect the unemployment epidemic.”

Customers love the drinks and customer service, according to the shop’s dozens of positive online reviews. For example, the Charleston shop has over 90 Yelp reviews, with an average five-star rating. A recent reviewer describes the shop as “my favorite coffee shop on earth” with people who are “a better pick me up than caffeine could ever be”.

Wright and her husband hopes to open stores all across America and provide employment for more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In an interview with CBS news, Wright and her husband explained that the inspiration for the store came from their two children with Down Syndrome, but they did not establish the chain just so that they would be guaranteed a job. “We were looking to change the culture so that when they are old enough, the world would be ready for them”, explains Wright.

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