Saturday, June 24, 2017

This coffee shop is changing the way we see people with disabilities

In some respects, Bitty and Beau's is like any other coffee shop — there's the smell of coffee brewing, the pastry case of croissants and muffins, a handful of people sitting at tables in front of steaming cups.

Yet there are other signs that this is someplace different. There's the bubbly cashier, Jesse Guillaume, who has cerebral palsy and wears a flower crown every day, and only takes a break from chatting to ring up customers’ coffee orders. There's Matt Dean, who has autism and is bent on selling Bitty and Beau’s totes to everyone who walks in the door — "It's perfect for summer!" — in between helping out behind the bar, where workers churn out frappes and cappuccinos.

And then there are the occasional dance parties in the center of the coffee shop, often led by 22-year-old Trevor Jefferson, who has Down syndrome and dreams of being a Hollywood actor. He shakes his hips to Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, blowing kisses at the smartphone cameras recording his moves.

“You kind of see a lightbulb go off in people’s eyes,” Ben Wright, who co-founded the shop with his wife, Amy Wright, told TODAY during a recent visit. All of their 40 employees have some form of disability, with the exception of two managers.

“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,” Wright added.
Ben and Amy Wright named the coffee shop after their children Beau and Bitty, who have Down syndrome.
The couple opened Bitty and Beau’s in January 2016, in a 500-square-foot store in Wilmington, North Carolina. They quickly outgrew the location and moved into a former Hummer dealership a few miles away — 10 times the size of their original space. This fall, they’ll open a second outpost in Charleston, South Carolina.

“This dream has unfolded so quickly and with so much support behind it that we never saw this coming,” Amy Wright, who runs day-to-day operations at the coffee shop, told TODAY.
The Wrights have four children; their youngest two, Bitty, 7, and Beau, 12, the coffee shop’s namesakes, have Down syndrome. They opened the shop in part so that their children would one day have a place to work.

Matt Dean greets a customer.
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This coffee shop is changing the way we see people with disabilities

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