Bitty and Beau’s coffee shops are like any other, offering a menu of various drinks and baked goods to customers. However, they have a unique quality that sets them apart: their employees.
Founded in 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina, the chain is dedicated to employing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Amy Wright and Ben Wright founded the cafe to honor their two youngest children, Bitty, and her older brother, Beau, both born with Down syndrome. Their sister, Lillie, who has autism, recently created a Braille menu available soon in all their locations. Their big sister, Emma Grace, serves as the creative director for the family business.
Adopting hiring practice is Amy and Ben’s attempt to “change the way that people see people with disabilities.”
“Myself having two children with Down syndrome and one child with autism I have seen how they have been overlooked or marginalized,” she said. “And it’s really a result we believe of a social issue where people just have not recognized the inherent value of their lives.”
But Amy blames no one. She said it’s a matter of “sometimes when you are not exposed to something, you don’t care about it.” And that’s what they’re trying to change by creating a coffee shop that puts people with disabilities in the spotlight.
In Bitty and Beau’s, employees take orders, make drinks, and converse with the guests. This way, the customers get a different perspective of people with disabilities.
Instead of writing down names on a cup, Bitty and Beau’s uses a deck of playing cards to match a customer with their order.
The coffee shop’s employees say that having a stable job has made an enormous difference in their lives.
“I used to be shy and reserved before working here,” said Matt Dean, who began working at Bitty and Beau’s when it first opened. “I gained confidence, but I’ve also gained great friends here. It’s like a second family.”
The couple are well aware of the unemployment epidemic that people with disabilities in the U.S. face.
“Statistically, there are 80 percent of people with disabilities unemployed across America,” Amy said. “We have our work cut out for us in creating some change in every state across the country. That’s our plan.”
Their hope is that patrons will go back to their own places of business and advocate for people with disabilities to be hired.
Amy said that historically, people with disabilities haven’t had the same job opportunities that other people do. These individuals are eager to join the workforce and are a sure asset to any business because they are “very loyal and hardworking.”
“The attrition rate is next to nothing,” said Amy, who noted that most of their employees have been with them since each coffee shop was opened. “It’s a wonderful workforce.”
“The business world just needs to find ways to begin to feather in people with disabilities into the workplace, so that it doesn’t become the exception, it becomes the rule,” Ben said.
Bitty and Beau’s has 24 branches across 11 states, including five franchised locations and six corporate stores. Another 13 are either under construction or in the planning stages.
The chain, which is clearly founded on love, is all about “changing the way people accept, respect, value, include, see, and love other people, not just serving a good cup of coffee,” according to the company’s philosophy.
Bitty and Beau’s is continually expanding, and their stores have been awarded architectural design awards. But more than the aesthetics, genuine hospitality is key, said Amy.
They want the café to be a place where people want to go to connect with others in the community.
“Especially during this pandemic, we’ve found that if people are going to leave their house and go somewhere, they want it to be an experience,” she said. “They want to make it worth it otherwise you can have stuff delivered to your door.”
Watch the company video below:
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