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Watch a WRAL.com Original: Wilmington coffee shop serves up example, inspiration

Posted April 23
Updated June 27

— Amy and Ben Wright are the parents to four children. Their youngest children, 7-year-old Bitty and 12-year-old Beau, have Down syndrome. According to the couple, they "hit the jackpot twice" and are the luckiest parents in the world.

As advocates for the value, inclusion and celebration of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the family now owns and operates Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington.

At Bitty & Beau's Coffee, "Diversity is not just accepted. It's celebrated."

"I was trying to think of a way to bring the community together and to help people with and without disabilities spend time together," Amy Wright said in an interview with Southern Living.

The goal is to start a conversation about the value and inclusion of all people.

The coffee shop employs 40 people with IDD and has been recognized nationally for fighting the statistic that 70 percent of people with IDD nationwide are unemployed.

The North Carolina-based coffee ship is expanding and will open a second location in Charleston, South Carolina in fall of 2017.

“Charleston offers the same southern hospitality we’re accustomed to," Wright said. "Having a job makes you feel like you matter, and that’s how we all want to feel."

The Wright family opened the original Beau’s Coffee in January 2016. That 500-square-foot space was run by 19 employees with IDD.

"There is a different level of hospitality when you walk into this place, and it is because you are welcome. It is the most genuine thing you’ll ever feel," store manager Maddie Ashcraft said. "When you think about a coffee shop, I think rushed and quick. I think the pace changes when you walk into Bitty & Beau’s."

Rachael Ray, a fan of Bitty & Beau's, mentioned recently on her daytime show, "I want to see a Bitty & Beau’s Coffee on every corner from coast to coast."

"Everyone has a different skill that they bring to the table," Ashcraft said. "We all have to figure out how to work together, as a team.

"They are my friends, and they are included in our community, and they are valuable to me. Just like I want to be valued, so do they."

In July 2016, Beau’s 12th birthday wish was to rename the shop after his sister too. The shop moved to a 5,000-square-foot space under the name Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and hired even more unique people to accept, value and celebrate.

"One of the things we love about the South is the warmth and the hospitality we feel," Amy Wright said. "Take that and multiply it by a million, and that is what you’ll feel when you come into Bitty & Beau’s Coffee."

She said that, for many of their employees, Bitty & Beau’s is their first job, and it gives them a new sense of identity.

"It’s very intentional that we don’t have a drive-through, because people are spending time together," she said.

"The icing on the cake is that some of those people have intellectual and developmental disabilities. When that happens, the walls come down."

Ashcraft said that, at the end of the day, a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee. The more important thing is forming relationships and breaking down barriers.

"This isn't just a coffee shop," she said.

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