BITTY & BEAU’S COFFEE. BUILDING A FUTURE FOR THE DISABLED

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee was founded in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2016 and has already spread beyond the state’s borders. The company’s coffee shops are in 24 cities in 12 states, with the newest one opening in Jacksonville, Florida. But the company has no intention of stopping until there is a coffee shop in every state from coast to coast.

The coffee chain began its story in 2016 after the owners, Ben and Amy Wright, decided to “change the way that people see people with disabilities.” They established the first cafe in honour of their children despite having no knowledge of how to run a coffee shop.  Beau and his younger sister were born with Down syndrome, and their younger sister has autism. “I have seen how they [my children] have been overlooked or marginalised,” Amy Wright said. “And it’s really a result we believe of a social issue where people just have not recognised the inherent value of their lives.”

The company puts an emphasis on hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Almost 90% of the 350-plus employees at Bitty & Beau’s 11 locations have a disability, doing everything from working as baristas to helping plan strategy in the corporate office.” The company is trying to shift the way we view this disadvantaged and overlooked segment of the population. Ben Wright is convinced that you can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities.

A human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.

Bitty & Beau

According to Silvia Bonaccio, a professor of workplace psychology at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, places like Bitty & Beau’s can be pivotal in changing the hiring climate. Since companies are not hiring people with disabilities, it’s important that some companies demonstrate the contribution these people can make.

Although the Wrights don’t disclose financial details, the company seem to be doing fine, as it is present already in 12 states, and in 2020 adopted a franchise model. Despite initially deciding not to pursue this path, Amy and Ben changed their minds and asked their Facebook followers to help them select a second location by posting a video or photo expressing why they would like to see one in their city.

Since then they have received invitations from all over the world, but they turn down more offers than they accept. They are careful not to betray their vision. Therefore, the new coffee shops must open with the right intentions and follow certain rules, as with all franchises. The company plans to expand to 27 locations within the next year, with the goal of having a coffee shop in each of the 50 states within a decade.

Author

  • Žiga Povše is a freelance writer, translator and a full-time coffee lover. After after visiting his girlfriend's family farm in Cerrado Mineiro, they opened an online store to sell Brazilian specialty coffee, and he remains an avid reader and a prolific writer.

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