CNN checks in at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina to learn more about what makes the coffee shop special.
The local fixture’s popularity is due to its workforce. The shop mostly employs people with mental or developmental disability, ranging from Down syndrome and autism to cerebral palsy. It’s the first chance at employment for many, and their sense of accomplishment and joy is definitely present in each cup they serve.
The shop is the vision of Amy Wright, a Wilmington resident who was inspired by her two children, Bitty and Beau, who live with Down syndrome. For Wright, it’s not just about supporting others like her children by integrating them into the workforce, but to raise awareness with their customers about the mental and developmental disability community. “People are scared of what they don’t know,” Wright told CNN. “So that’s why we’ve decided to live out loud and to show people what our lives are like.”
Nearly 70% of adults with learning and developmental disabilities are unemployed, which didn’t sit well with the Wright family who resolved to do something about it. “Having a workplace that makes you feel proud of yourself and gives you a sense of community is something we all want.” continued Wright. “They’re proud to be employed by Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, and they will shout it from the rooftops. It’s given them purpose and a sense of being valued in ways that we take for granted.”
Since opening its doors last year in January, Bitty & Beau’s has enjoyed lines out the door. Attention from the National Press followed soon after and six months later, the decision was made to relocate the shop to a larger space to accommodate the rising level of customers. Today, Bitty & Beau’s employs 40 men and women with disabilities, overseen by two managers with degrees earned in special education, allowing the shop and its staff to operate like a well-oiled machine. The profits brought in by Bitty and Beau’s Coffee are put toward Wright’s nonprofit effort, Able to Work USA, which continues to encourage Wright’s vision of an American workforce that’s inclusive and supporting of people with learning and developmental disabilities across the entire country.
So what’s next for Wright and her vision? Outreach, of course! Expansion is on the menu for Bitty and Beau’s, with plans to open a new location in Charleston, South Carolina to attract the tourists who frequent the area, hoping to introduce patrons to a new experience. According to Wright, “It’s taking our mission to another level, and we feel like that’s when we’re really going to start changing hearts and minds.”
See the full story and Amy Wright’s interview with CNN.