US coffee shop employs people with disabilities

Bitty (left) and Beau’s employment journey showcases their individual talents and abilities. Photos: Instagram/Bittyandbeauscoffee

Eight years ago, Amy and Ben Wright wanted to see what future opportunities their two children, Bitty and Beau, would have as people with Down syndrome.

The Wrights began to research, finding that 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed nationwide.

“We didn’t want our kids growing up being part of that statistic,” said Amy. “So we decided to do something about it in our own community.”

In 2016, the couple opened a coffee shop called Bitty and Beau’s, in Wilmington, North Carolina, the United States with the mission of uplifting people with disabilities and providing them with meaningful work.

Amy (second from right) and her husband Ben (third from right) envisioned a future where their children, Bitty (centre) and Beau (right), could thrive in meaningful employment.Amy (second from right) and her husband Ben (third from right) envisioned a future where their children, Bitty (centre) and Beau (right), could thrive in meaningful employment.

Since then, Bitty and Beau’s has expanded to encompass 20 locations across the country, employing 450 people with disabilities. The coffee company opened its newest shop, at 1920 Smallman St. in the Strip District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last month.

“What we learned very quickly was that we were creating a place where people could see people with disabilities working and connect with them,” Amy said. “So hopefully they go back to their work and think about hiring someone with a disability as well.”

Nationally, 22.3% of people with disabilities were employed in 2023 compared to 65.8% of those who do not have disabilities, according to the US Department of Labour, Bureau of Labour Statistics.

In Pennsylvania, people with disabilities are three times more likely to be out of the labor force than people without disabilities, according to United Way of Pennsylvania.

The Strip District location is Bitty and Beau’s second in the state, with the first in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The company chose Pittsburgh in hopes of reaching a lot of people and becoming a staple in the city.

At Bitty and Beau's, individuals with special needs are empowered to progress towards independence.At Bitty and Beau's, individuals with special needs are empowered to progress towards independence.

“We felt like the location in the Strip was the perfect place to come into the Pittsburgh community,” Amy said. “We hope to have tons of regulars, but also serve anybody visiting Pittsburgh that will be out enjoying everything the city has to offer and have this wonderful experience they’ve never had before.”

Thirty employees with disabilities, along with support staff, will be working at the Pittsburgh location. The only job requirements are having a good attitude and a willingness to learn.

“Then we train and support them so they can be successful on the job,” she said.

Bitty and Beau’s offers coffee, tea and other specialty drinks as well as smoothies and baked goods. The company roasts all of the coffee used at its stores in North Carolina, she said.

The grand opening at Strip District featured a ribbon cutting and a celebration where employees will be introduced individually. The shop handed out samples of drinks and food throughout the day.

“You can get a cup of coffee anywhere, but what you can’t get is the experience that we’re bringing to Pittsburgh,” Amy said.

“Customers will leave our shop feeling better than when they went in. It’s a place of connection, where people can spend time together and see the humanity in each other.” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Tribune News Service

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