A coffee house in Wilmington, North Carolina, is changing the way some folks see and interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD.
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is almost entirely staffed by people with IDD, giving those employees the chance to flex their skills and patrons the chance to emerge with a positive experience — and a cup of coffee.
Owner and CEO Amy Wright founded Bitty & Beau’s to help employ those who have IDD. Only around 18% of people with disabilities were employed nationally in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Amy and her husband Ben named the coffee shop for their two youngest children, both of whom have Down Syndrome.
“When people come in I think they’re just captivated by the experience… They come in and it’s refreshing. People take the time to get to know our employees and vice versa and it’s just a very positive, supportive atmosphere,” Amy says.
Matthew Dean works the register, although his official title is Director of First Impressions. He has autism and previous experience, but it didn’t involve the customer service he is now able to provide at Bitty and Beau’s. “Ever since I’ve worked here, I’ve been more open and chattier with people. It’s kept me kind of out of my shell,” says Matthew.
“People walk through the doors and they kind of look around and I love to watch their faces… They begin to realize, ‘Wow, wait a second, they’re just like me,” says Maddie Ashcraft. Maddie is a manager who does not have a disability, but is passionate about working with those who do.
Dustin Estabrook, a cashier at Bitty & Beau’s who has cerebral palsy, says, “I wanted the world to look at everybody that had disabilities. I wanted them to look at us as people and just come talk to us and get to know us.”
One person who has gotten to know the employees at Bitty & Beau’s very well is Charlie Baker, who comes in frequently.
“It’s so cool,” he says. “You walk in and get hugs and high fives. I love that feeling and you just don’t get it everywhere. This type of place really brings out the abilities that these people have and doesn’t just highlight disabilities that they have.”
Bitty & Beau’s plans to expand to Charleston, South Carolina, soon.
“One part of the plan in going to a place like Charleston is that you will reach people who aren’t looking for you,” says Amy Wright. “We feel like that just increases our mission of trying to change hearts and minds about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities when you are reaching people when they least expect it.”