Walking down M Street in Georgetown, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee seems like your typical coffee shop at first glance. Step inside and you’ll quickly realize Bitty & Beau’s is more than a cup of coffee.
Created by Ben Wright and his wife Amy, the coffee shop began in Wilmington, N.C. after they began envisioning the type of future they wanted for their children with Intellectual Disabilities (ID).
Beginning as a small, local coffee shop in 2016, Bitty & Beau’s now has 20 franchises across the nation and is a reminder of why it’s important to shop at small businesses during the holiday season, and every day.
The worker shortage the U.S. has been battling since the pandemic will remain for the next generation—and possibly longer—due to an aging population and shifting trends in workforce participation. Helping businesses hire and support individuals with disabilities and neurodivergence is one way the U.S. Chamber is helping businesses combat their workforce challenges through the America Works initiative.
Cultivating a Path for Individuals with Development Disabilities
The Wrights are parents to four children: Lillie, Emma Grace, Beau, and Bitty. Their oldest daughter Lillie has autism, and their two youngest children, Beau and Bitty, have Down syndrome.
“When you have one child born with a disability, in this case Beau, 19 years ago, it gets your attention,” said Ben Wright. “When you have a second child born from the same parents with Down syndrome, it really gets your attention.”
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee emerged as a place where their children could cultivate a sense of belonging. When Bitty and Beau were diagnosed after they were born, the Wrights wanted more for their children.
“What we saw being thrust into a community of people who have disabilities, especially ID, is when they get out of that high school system, there’s not a whole lot for them to do,” Ben said. “There certainly aren’t jobs aplenty for them, and we didn’t want that for our kids.”
People with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups globally but only represent 29% of Americans in the workforce as of 2018. When Bitty & Beau’s Coffee opened its doors in Wilmington, it provided 19 part-time jobs for people with developmental disabilities.
Leave Your Doubt at the Door
Owning a coffee shop like Bitty & Beau’s, the first of its kind, has been a learning curve. The Wrights are among the handful of people actively working to address the hiring challenges people with ID face.
Ben believes addressing workforce challenges begins by reshaping how we view and interact with people with disabilities.
Bitty & Beau’s consciously works to boost interactions customers have with people who have disabilities. One of their mottos, “leave your doubt at the door,” encourages customers to be bold in an effort to forge connections and similarities between people with and without disabilities.
Connecting through Coffee
Bitty & Beau’s offers a selection of holiday drinks and treats with a variety of merchandise with taglines like “radically inclusive” and “not broken.”
“We hope that people will take a minute to do some of their Christmas shopping with us and give some of our stuff to people they care about, or to someone who needs to hear it,” Ben said. “Maybe it’ll start a conversation that has never been started before.”
For now, the Wrights are continuing to franchise Bitty & Beau’s to help bridge the employment gap for people with disabilities. They are also urging the business community to develop innovative and inclusive environments to address the lack of available employment opportunities for people with disabilities.