Bitty and Beau's Coffee, launched by Amy and Ben Wright, is breaking barriers by employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
A "radically inclusive" coffee shop is not just brewing coffee but opportunities too. The Bitty and Beau's Coffee, launched by Amy and Ben Wright, employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and is dedicated to changing perspectives and possibilities.
When the duo discovered that 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed nationwide, they decided to make that their focus. "Every shop we open becomes a portal for guests to see what's possible when you employ people with disabilities," Wright told CBS News.
The Wrights opened the first coffee business for their family in North Carolina five years ago. "Bitty and Beau are our two youngest children," Amy Wright explained, adding, "they both have Down syndrome." Bitty & Beau’s Coffee has grown to 23 shops in more than a dozen states with over 400 employees. Around 90% of the 350-plus employees at Bitty & Beau’s have a disability and do everything from working as baristas to helping in the corporate office.
According to Bloomberg, Bitty & Beau’s is a fast-growing and profitable business in an industry dominated by other chains like Starbucks, Dunkin' and Peet's. "We’re trying to shift the way society thinks about people with disabilities from charity to prosperity," said Ben Wright. "You can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities."
Wright describes Bitty & Beau's Coffee, which has grown into a chain, as a human rights movement "disguised as a coffee shop." The chain's 12th location opened in Washington, D.C., and Wright said she has plans to establish 14 more around the country. The initial branch was in Wilmington, North Carolina, and she has since offered franchises.
"What we're trying to do here is give people a place to see people with disabilities doing meaningful work, earning a paycheck, making a difference, and saving for their futures, and when guests come in our shop and see that, they can't unsee it," Wright said, reports USA Today.
All employees at Bitty and Beau’s Coffee receive a minimum wage, with promotional incentives and raises. Some leaders of the organization also have disabilities, shared Wright. She hopes that her shops will inspire other businesses to hire people with disabilities.
"We do not receive any federal or state subsidies. We’re trying to make the point that you can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities," she said. "We’re trying to shift the way society thinks about people with disabilities from charity to prosperity." She also hopes for a global presence that will educate people on the importance of inclusion.
"We believe there is a need for this in every community, and the more shops we can open, the more portals to seeing what's possible so that people everywhere can begin to see people with disabilities differently," she said.
Lisa Schur, a professor, and co-director of the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University, said that businesses like Bitty and Beau’s alone can’t erase barriers to employment for people with disabilities. She said there should also be positive media representation and increased opportunities. "It’s not hard to hire somebody with a disability," said Meghan Young, Bitty and Beau’s director of franchise relations and brand excellence. "You just have to make tweaks and innovate around their needs."