A Little Coffee, a Lot of Change

Savannah’s newest coffee shop hopes to change how we see people with different abilities.

 

Amy Wright has a mission. In January 2016, she opened a coffee shop in Wilmington, North Carolina — not usually a national news event, except for one thing. That coffee shop, named Bitty and Beau’s Coffee in honor of her two youngest children who have Down syndrome, employs 40 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).

Wright wants to show the world that people with IDD, including her own children, are “#NotBroken,” which is also the name of the national campaign she launched after gaining a worldwide platform when she was named CNN Hero of the Year in 2017.

After being featured on the “Today” show, “Rachael Ray,” “Harry,” “Good Morning America,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” CNN and HLN, as well as in People and Southern Living, Wright realized that Bitty and Beau’s had potential to grow. In 2017, Bitty and Beau’s opened in downtown Charleston, and this October a third store will open in Savannah’s Historic District.

All hands on deck. Photo courtesy Bitty and Beau’s Coffee

Not only will this growth continue to provide meaningful employment to people with IDD, but it could also change the way people see each other. “Coming to Bitty and Beau’s is definitely an experience,” Wright says. “Our employees really engage their guests and want to have a meaningful conversation with them. It’s about people with and without disabilities spending some time together, and the result of that is hearts and minds are changed about the way people feel about people with disabilities.”

With the exception of a few managers for back-end support, the store is run entirely by employees with IDD, from taking and making orders to working the register and cleaning the shop.

“We’re proving a point that it can be done,” Wright says, “but we’re hoping other businesses will see how successful these individuals are and how capable they are and find a way to incorporate at least one person with IDD into their business in a meaningful way.”

A loving environment. Photo courtesy Bitty and Beau’s Coffee

The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS), which has served Savannah and its eight surrounding counties since 2006, sees the opening of Bitty and Beau’s as another way to help further promote acceptance and inclusion of those with IDD. “There are so many Savannah employers that have noticed the exemplary dedication and commitment of people with Down syndrome,” notes Kayla Johnson, executive director of LDSS. “The presence of Bitty and Beau’s is just going to add to the awareness that people with different abilities have so much joy, talent and skill, and employing them will only make a business better.”

The LDSS already knows the Bitty and Beau’s business model works. Each spring, the LDSS Night of Champions honors employees and their employers in hopes of encouraging people with IDD to secure meaningful work and show businesses that they benefit, too.

According to Wright, Bitty and Beau’s retention rate is almost 100 percent. “All but two of my employees in Wilmington are my original crew,” she says. The shops simply don’t have turnover; her employees want to work.

Not broken, indeed.

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