Caffeine-lovers in Wilmington, North Carolina can get a shot of inclusion with their next latte.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee is a full-service coffee shop and snack emporium that makes a difference. The original location (it was just called “Beau’s Coffee” back then) started with a crew of 19 employees, each of whom had an intellectual or developmental disability.
In 2016, though, the shop re-opened in a newer, larger, and more magnificent 5,000-square-foot space in Wilmington. Bitty and Beau’s now provides employment for 40 people with IDD, and they’re still looking to grow.
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When guests come into Bitty and Beau’s, they’re invited into a world that too-often remains in the shadows of society. Almost 70 percent of Americans with IDD remain unemployed as adults. Bitty and Beau’s ownership hopes to create a shining beacon of possibility that will make tomorrow’s unemployment rate among people with IDD much, much lower.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee is the brainchild of mom and advocate Amy Wright.
Two of her four children, the eponymous Bitty and Beau, have Down syndrome. Like so many parents of kids with IDD, Wright quickly found that parenting and advocacy were two sides of the same coin.
The coffee shop became an instant hit in Wilmington. Customers love the friendly, expert service they get, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the honey buns are to die for.
“Our community has completely embraced Beau’s Coffee,” Wright said. “Every expectation that we had has been exceeded.”
The story of Bitty and Beau’s is unacceptably rare.
Advocates explain that the staggering unemployment rate among adult Americans with IDD is based more on misunderstanding and prejudice than on real capability.
“People with IDD make wonderful employees who can make positive contributions to a business when given the chance,” Wright said. “My experience has been that people with special needs bring a refreshing perspective to every moment in life. Working alongside this population has been one of my great joys in life.”
That’s something Bitty and Beau’s customers get to learn first-hand.
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“We knew we were creating jobs,” Wright wrote in a Facebook post for Beau’s Coffee. “What we didn’t know was that we were creating a culture. Just look around Beau’s Coffee and you’ll find people from all walks of life doing life together.
So how did we get from Beau’s Coffee to Bitty and Beau’s Coffee?
Wright gave her son one birthday wish. He asked to have his little sister’s name added to the business. He wanted to share the glory. So Beau’s became Bitty and Beau’s.
The shop has been attracting a lot of fawning attention from the press. They’ve been featured on the morning show circuit, from Harry to Rachael Ray to Good Morning America. They’ve also shown up in the pages of People Magazine and Southern Living.
It’s obvious that there’s something in this business plan that attracts the public’s attention. Maybe this is a good time to expand the hiring of people with IDD to all types of industries.
“I would love for Wilmington to be a model [that] integrate[s] people with disabilities into the workforce,” Wright told StarNewsOnline. “Now, let’s try to replicate it elsewhere.”
Bitty and Beau’s employee Matt Dean, who has autism, can get behind that sentiment. The 26-year-old told the Mighty that he loves his job.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I love all of the nice customers, and it gets packed, so we stay busy, especially on Fridays. I love being around other people. All my coworkers are friendly, and they do such a super awesome job.”
The Mighty asked Dean if he had any advice for people with IDD who are looking for work.
“Never give up and keep on trying,” Dean said. “Just keep moving forward and believe in yourself.”
Thanks to businesses like Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, Dean’s advice is spot on.