Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Shop is a coffee house with a difference. It doesn’t just serve drinks and snacks; it’s a special non-profit enterprise run by people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. As their official website states, it’s a place where diversity “is not just appreciated, it’s celebrated.”
Its founders and employees hope that their success will inspire other companies to hire a diverse workforce, and to prove that taking a positive approach to hiring people with disabilities can be a great commercial strategy. By creating warm community hubs where employees with disabilities are both visible and valued, Bitty & Beau’s has already started to challenge people’s perceptions.
People with disabilities struggle to find a place in the working world
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than 20% (18.7%) of people with a disability are in paid employment. Although people with disabilities tend to be older than average, underemployment is a significant problem for disabled people in every age group and at every level of educational attainment. Workers with disabilities are more likely to work part time, and they are less likely than their peers to have graduated college.
There is no single underlying reason that can explain these statistics; it’s a multifaceted problem. Among the biggest obstacles is stigma.
Many people know little or nothing about the lives, aspirations – and capabilities – of those with disabilities. They may wrongly assume that they have little to offer.
Employers may also worry that they won’t be able to offer employees with disabilities the support they need in their roles. People with disabilities may also lack confidence in their abilities, particularly if they have been bullied or shamed for being “different.”
The Bitty & Beau Story
Bitty & Beau’s was started by Amy Wright, who has two children with Down’s syndrome: their son, Beau, and daughter, Bitty. Wright has long been concerned by the fact that employment prospects for young people and adults with disabilities are limited.
Wright opened the first Bitty & Beau’s shop in 2016, in Wilmington, N.C. It was such a success that a second store, located in Charleston, S.C., opened in February 2018.
Together, the coffee shops have around 80 employees. Their workers include people with Down’s syndrome, autism, those who have yet to receive a diagnosis.
Bitty & Beau’s has received a lot of positive media attention. The company has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, Good Morning America, Dr. Oz, and the Rachael Ray Show.
In 2017, Amy Wright was awarded CNN’s Hero Of The Year Award, which earned her $100,000 to help grow Bitty & Beau’s even further.
Customers love the drinks and customer service, as the shop’s dozens of positive online reviews testify. For example, the Charleston shop has over 90 Yelp.com reviews, with an average five-star rating. A recent reviewer describes the shop as “my favorite coffee shop on earth” with people who are “a better pick me up than caffeine could ever be.”
Starting from zero
— Bitty & Beaus Coffee (@bittyandbeaus) August 11, 2018
Amy and her husband, Ben, had no experience in running a business before setting up Bitty & Beau’s. After undertaking some research on the practicalities involved in running a business, and consulting with friends who roasted coffee, they jumped in at the deep end and decided to figure everything out as they went along. So far, this daring approach has paid off.
When hiring employees, Bitty & Beau’s doesn’t rule out those with no prior work experience. Their top priorities are to ascertain whether an applicant is willing to pick up new skills, and whether they have the right attitude to succeed.
If they are hired, the new team member is then placed in a role that best suits their unique abilities and preferences.
The shops are overseen by people without disabilities, but the day-to-day running of Bitty & Beau’s is very much the domain of the regular employees.
What does the future have in store for Bitty & Beau’s?
We found the perfect place for our Savannah shop! 319 W. Congress Street (next door to Garibaldi's Cafe)
Opening this fall! pic.twitter.com/4CvqfIRelW
— Bitty & Beaus Coffee (@bittyandbeaus) May 15, 2018
Wright’s aim is to continue opening more coffee shops across the country, offering employment for more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is currently searching for more locations. Her ultimate mission is to change the way the working world views people with disabilities.
Wright and her husband were inspired by their children to start Bitty & Beau’s, but they didn’t establish the chain just so that they would be guaranteed a job. In an interview with CBS news, Amy said, “We…were looking to change the culture so that when they were old enough, the world would be ready for them.”