How a Melrose coffee shop creates ‘life changing’ experiences for employees
“Our mission is to change the way people see people with disabilities,” Bitty & Beau’s co-founder Amy Wright said.
“Our mission is to change the way people see people with disabilities, and we do that within the setting of a coffee shop, where everybody feels pretty comfortable,” she said. When a guest realizes their order is being taken by a person with a disability, “you are having some psychological reconditioning going on, while enjoying a really great cup of coffee.”
At the coffee shop, a sense of gratitude and positivity fills the space, she said. There are lots of high fives to go around, and it isn’t unusual for staff to break out into a dance party. On a wall, there is a map where guests can identify where in the world they are traveling from to visit the cafe. Instead of writing customers’ names on cups, which can be a challenge, employees call out a playing card that matches each person’s order. On the menu, guests can order food and drinks that include lattes, smoothies, muffins, and cake pops.
The Wrights founded Bitty & Beau’s, with their first location opening in North Carolina in 2016, because they have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Lillie, their eldest, was born with autism, and Bitty and Beau, their two youngest, have Down syndrome. Wright said that when she learned that 80% of people with disabilities do not have jobs, she felt a need to make a change.
“Even though our kids were—and still are—in school, we were thinking ahead to their futures,” she said. “It’s very personal to us. We are definitely trying to create a better world for our kids.”
Workers are involved in many facets of running Bitty & Beau’s from taking and calling out orders, making drinks, and keeping the shop clean. But Wright said that it isn’t just about having a job. It’s about the relationships they build and the personal growth they experience.
“For most of us, having a job gives you a sense of identity and purpose,” Wright said. “They’re missing that in their lives.” The work also gives them an opportunity to shine. “For people with disabilities who have been marginalized, segregated, or in the shadows, to be front and center [in] the spotlight is life changing,” she said.
Whenever Bitty & Beau’s announces that they are opening a coffee shop in a new location, they promote the news across social media. Their inbox is typically flooded with people looking for jobs. They host a hiring fair for people to come learn more and apply. Most have never had a job or been to an interview, Wright said, but there is no prerequisite to work at Bitty & Beau’s. A good attitude and a willingness to learn new skills is important. Once the shop opens, the news spreads, and more prospective workers reach out.
“The cool thing is, we hope that while we can’t hire everybody that needs a job in Melrose, we hope we’re demonstrating to other businesses what’s possible when you do hire people with disabilities,” Wright said.
Joe Sullivan started working as an employee at Bitty & Beau’s in Melrose last summer. A video of him receiving his first paycheck recently went viral, receiving over 3 million views on TikTok. Today, Sullivan works as a caller, but he hopes to one day learn how to make drinks. His mother, Tonya Sullivan, told us about how he would visit the coffee shop every weekend when it first opened, how he was given a future employee pin, and how from that moment on, he wanted to work there.
“Joe has really become very independent, and I think that Bitty & Beau’s played a big part in that,” Tonya said. “I think the best part of Joe working there has been the friends that he’s met, the skills that he’s attained, but mostly the independence.” He has become more confident, she said, a self advocate.
People who have touched Joe’s life throughout the years show up to visit him, Tonya said, from paraprofessionals to preschool teachers. The job has allowed Tonya to feel that she can step back a little bit and allow her son to live his life more fully. Seeing Joe behind the counter gives her hope, she said.
“It’s given me the opportunity to watch Joe grow,” she said. “I love being able to drop him off where he can better himself, and I can leave happier than when I got there.”
Wright affirmed that Bitty & Beau’s is very much “a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop,” striving to bring change in the way that people see one another.
“As parents, you see the inherent value in your children’s lives,” she said. “You wonder, how is the world missing this?”
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, 462 Main St., Melrose, open daily, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
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