You won’t find a more friendly or welcoming coffee shop than Bitty and Beau’s in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Bitty and Beau’s was opened in January 2016 by a couple, who are parents to four children, two of which have Down syndrome. Ben and Amy Wright co-founded the shop and all of their 40 employees have some form of disability, with the exception of their two managers.
“You kind of see a lightbulb go off in people’s eyes,” Ben told TODAY said of his customers. “The whole point is just to show people who come in that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can do a lot more than you think they can.”
The couple originally opened the shop so that their two youngest children with Down syndrome, Bitty, 7, and Beau, 12, had a place to work.
“You know, twelve years ago when our son was born, we were immediately thrust into this world of folks with special needs … I call it a subculture, because it is sort of like that,” Ben said.
“And we saw the folks who had graduated high school and most of them, we found, just basically had not a whole lot to do,” he continued. “Very few had jobs, and if they had a job it was just for an hour or two a week. And to be fair, some folks can only work an hour or two a week and that’s fine. But we didn’t want things to just go radio silent for them once they graduated high school. So we thought, let’s try to do something about it.”
The family knew nothing about coffee or the restaurant business before opening their shop, but that didn’t stop them.
“We found that when you’re passionate about something you can learn whatever you set your mind to,” Amy said. “And for us it was coffee.”
On a day-to-day basis, their coffee shop is full of happy customers and enthusiastic employees, who love to interact with their visitors and host the occasional dance party in the center of the store.
“This dream has unfolded so quickly and with so much support behind it that we never saw this coming,” Amy said.
There is a “crushing need” for employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In 2015, it was reported that only 17.5 percent of people with a disability were employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Wrights said they are constantly receiving applications. “It’s been overwhelming, just how many people need jobs,” Amy said.
They believe the first step to solving this issue is to change the way people with disabilities are viewed. “You just watch (customers’) faces and you sort of see this progression they go through,” Ben said. “And when people leave, I think they leave changed.”
The customer’s notice it too. “It’s a happy place,” one regular, Charlie Baker, said. “I walk out, and my day is immediately better.”
The relationships that are formed between the customers and employees are truly special.
The couple has plans to open a second outpost in Charleston, South Carolina, this fall.
Photo Credit: Twitter / @TheCleanTowel
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