They also offer hope to employees
Roughly one in four Americans currently live with a disability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2018. Among those with disabilities, nearly 80 percent are unemployed. This staggering statistic was the fuel Ben and Amy Wright needed to open Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a once-small-town business that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
First opened in the Wrights’ hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina in 2016, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is named after their children Bitty and Beau Wright who both have Down Syndrome. Since then, Bitty & Beau’s has opened 24 locations across the U.S.
Amy Wright started the coffee shop as a business that would give people with disabilities in her community a place to work. That business has now started a movement that has led to the opening of more Bitty and Beau’s Coffee shops across the country in 12 other states.
Families told the Wrights, “We need this in our community. How can we be a part of this?” Amy said. “So we evolved into a franchise system where now we partner with families in cities across the country to open coffee shops, and in doing so … they’re creating jobs for people with disabilities in their communities, and they’re creating another portal where people can come in and see what’s possible,” she explained.
In October 2021, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee opened its first shop in Charlotte. Owned and operated by Amie and Vic Cennamo, the business has quickly become a staple in Charlotte’s coffee scene, impacting families with kids living with disabilities along the way.
One of the families impacted by Bitty and Beau’s is the Fuerstmans whose daughter Sydney lives with Down Syndrome. A high school senior, Sydney began working at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee’s Charlotte location shortly after it opened. She said working at Bitty & Beau’s has allowed her to earn a paycheck to pay for the things she wants.
“I have a paycheck in my bank account. And I can get these nails done,” Sydney said. “My favorite part is the lattes that I make.”
Sydney’s mom Hunter Fuerstman said she appreciates the impact Bitty & Beau’s has had on her daughter. She explained that working at the coffee shop has helped Sydney and those around her realize the things that she’s capable of.
“Random strangers come in a coffee shop and see all these kids and see that they are capable of more … and that they can do things that contribute to the community — just like the rest of us,” Fuerstman said.
Each coffee shop offers customers a distinct experience. The Charlotte location, for example, allows coffee buyers to place orders with trading cards which Sydney said is one of her favorite parts of working at the shop.
Bitty & Beau’s impact on the Charlotte community since its opening six months ago has been unprecedented. The location, named the city’s best coffee shop by several outlets, has been featured in the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte Magazine.
Amy said the coffee shop has not only impacted Charlotte’s most active coffee drinkers but families who have members with disabilities as well.
“They have hundreds of people that pour through their doors every day. There are families that seek out that experience of coming to the shop,” she said. “Maybe they have a child with a disability, and they come to have a peek at what their child’s future could look like.”
As Bitty & Beau’s continues to expand beyond the Carolinas, Amy said she hopes their business will influence more businesses to make people living with disabilities a norm in the workplace.
“What we hope to do is continue to demonstrate how you can run a profitable business [by employing] people with disabilities,” she said. “Other businesses across the country will see what we’re doing and start to innovate their workplace so that they can be more inclusive and have people with disabilities on their staff.”
Overall, the Wrights want to continue to emphasize the fun nature that has made Bitty & Beau’s Coffee a success.
“It’s a very fun and festive place where we hope families will continue to come and bring their kids and bring up a generation of people that really values people with disabilities so that we can really create some change in our country,” Amy said.
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is located at 1930 Camden Road, Suite 236 in Charlotte.