Coffee for a cause

Cuisine People

October 29, 2021

Bitty & Beau’s opens its first Charlotte store, providing jobs for people with disabilities. 

by Michelle Boudin

Bitty and Beau may not be old enough to work in the coffee shop named for them, but their mom Amy Wright says they definitely will be behind the counter when they finish school.

“They’re already such a part of it. They know every employee’s name at every shop, and they’re a big part of every grand opening.”

Bitty, 12, and Beau, 17, were on hand for the latest Bitty & Beau’s opening in Charlotte’s South End. Their parents opened the first coffee shop five-and-a-half years ago in Wilmington. Each shop is staffed primarily by people with disabilities.

“They do everything from take orders to make the drinks. It’s just a very positive place to be. People love interacting with all of our employees,” Wright says.

Bitty and Beau are the youngest of Wright’s four children, and both have Down syndrome. It’s highly unusual to give birth to two babies with the disorder, so Wright says she and her husband, Ben, felt like they were called to do something special because of it.  

“When Bitty was born, we felt like our calling in life came into focus — there’s something greater we’re supposed to be doing for people with disabilities.”

She heard a worrisome statistic that 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed — and that got her thinking. Her oldest daughter was also recently diagnosed with autism, so she says the idea behind the coffee shops is to create a way not only to make sure her own kids could find work, but also for people who have never been around someone with autism or Down syndrome to experience that in a no-pressure atmosphere.

“We had always been advocates for our kids in different ways, but we could never really capture the attention of people who didn’t have a family member with a disability. And I was thinking, ‘How can you reach people who have never spent time with someone with a disability?’ And a coffee shop popped in my head, because it’s a comfortable place where people come together. If you want to sit down at the counter and have a face-to-face conversation with someone with Down syndrome you can, or you can just get a great cup of coffee.”

The first shop opened in 2016, and a year later Amy was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year, receiving a $100,000 award to expand her cause.

“We wanted to create a place in the community where people could see what we already saw in our kids — the value they bring to our lives — and we thought maybe we could shift the culture a little bit. We realized the experience we could provide for a guest who had never spent time with people with disabilities and hoped maybe they would leave with a different perspective. You don’t care about what you don’t see in the world, and for so long people with disabilities have not been seen.”

The Wrights didn’t set out to become a franchise, but they received so many calls from people interested in being a part of Bitty & Beau’s that last year they started offering the option. They now have 19 shops in the works across the country. Amy says Charlotte was always high on the list.

Wright is proud to say it’s not just about the people and the mission. “Our coffee is really good too!” she says. Bitty & Beau’s is the official coffee for the Rachael Ray Show, and the company has several big corporate clients as well.

“Our coffee shops are a place for good coffee and a place filled with warmth where people with disabilities can really shine.”  SP

Bitty and Beau’s is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Design Center of the Carolinas, 1930 Camden Road, Ste. 236.

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