Amy Wright is the owner of a chain of coffee shops in the United States, but she is not just an ordinary businesswoman. Her coffee shops weren’t built solely for profit-making purposes – they were founded to serve a bigger purpose.
Amy is the owner of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, known as “The Happiest Place in Wilmington”. They’ve earned that reputation not just because of their delicious mochas and lattes, but for their unique set of employees – people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Almost all the staff at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee have an intellectual or developmental disability, such as Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. For most of these folks, their job at this coffee shop is their first, and the joy they feel just emanates into the shop’s atmosphere.
Amy and her husband named the coffee shop after their two children who have Down syndrome, Beau and Bitty. When the couple learned that over 80% of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have jobs, they decided to do something to change that statistic.
“It hit me like a lightning bolt: a coffee shop!” Amy says. “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.”
Their first branch opened in January 2016 in a 500 square foot space in Wilmington, North Carolina, where droves of customers immediately patronized the coffee shop. Gradually, it gained national press attention, which prompted them to move into a larger place – a 5,000 sq/ft building – six months later. The original shop began with 19 employees and grew to employ 40 people today, with two managers who hold degrees in special education. Amy says that the team is highly efficient.
“Our wait time is no longer than any of our competitors. They’ve all gotten really good at their jobs and step up if somebody else needs help.”
The second location of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee opened in February 2018 in Charleston, South Carolina, where there are currently 80 employees.
“Creating this has given people a way to interact with people with disabilities that (they) never had before. 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.”, Amy says.
Most recently, last January 20, the third location held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their newest branch in Savannah, Georgia.
For being a staunch advocate of people with disabilities, Amy won the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year award, which included $100,000 toward her cause.
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee has also gained clientele among TV personalities. In fact, they became the official coffee of the “Rachael Ray Show” in 2018.
Amy told The Mighty that they plan to open more coffee shops all over the United States. They also have some big announcements in store for 2019.
She aspires that more businesses will follow in their footsteps.
“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.”
If you would like to contribute to Amy’s advocacy of creating more jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, click HERE.
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