The Wright family – Amy, Ben, Lillie, Emma Grace, Bitty, and Beau – want to change your perception of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one coffee drink at a time.
Their platform is Bitty and Beau’s, a coffee house franchise that employs mainly people with disabilities, providing what is for many of the workers the only job they have ever had.
“When you give people with disabilities a chance, they rise to the occasion,” says Amy Wright, who co-founded Bitty and Beau’s in 2016 with her husband, Ben. “People with disabilities have been marginalized throughout history. A lot of time it’s for the lack of opportunity to connect.”
On Saturday, November 11, Ben will help cut the ribbon a new Bitty and Beau’s in Homewood. It is the franchise’s 18th café in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Set for 10 a.m., the pre-opening ceremony includes an introduction of the new store’s employees. The party will overflow across Oxmoor Road in Central Park with bouncy houses, face painting, and other family-friendly fun.
“We’re looking forward to a huge crowd,” Amy says. “Every person who shows up in support is validating our employees, showing that they matter.”
The Auburn location of Bitty and Beau’s, its other Alabama outpost, has drawn that kind of support since opening in 2022. It was named Best Coffee House in a 2023 survey of Opelika-Auburn News readers.
The Alabama cafes each employ more than two dozen people with disabilities, plus what Amy Wright calls “typically developing employees.”
Working in tandem, the staff serves an array of basic hot and cold coffee drinks. (You won’t find those fru-fru “Overpricelatteccinos.”) The coffee beans, which are roasted at Bitty and Beau’s headquarters in North Carolina, also are sold retail in the stores and online, along with merch.
Smoothies and frappes, both in a variety of flavors, round out the drink lineup. Food choices are modest, with bagels, muffins, cake pops, brownies, and other sweets.
“What really sets us apart is the experience you have interacting with our employees,” Amy says. “You’re greeted with ‘Welcome to Bitty and Beau’s’ when you step through the door. Everything is intentionally laid out so there are no barriers between our workers and our guests, so conversations can take place.”
A map wall encourages people to place a pin to mark their hometown. You never know when a dance party or conga line will break out. “You definitely will leave feeling better than when you came in,” Wright says.
The business is named for the youngest Wright siblings. Jane – nicknamed “Bitty” because of her tiny size as a newborn – is 14. Beau – that’s also his nickname; he was born Ben Jr. – is 19. Both have Down Syndrome. Also involved in the family business are older sisters Emma Grace, 23, and Lillie, 25, who is on the autism spectrum.
The concept behind Bitty and Beau’s is similar to Unless U Scoops in Vestavia Hills, which employs and provides vocational training to adults with disabilities who are clients of the non-profit, Unless U.
Demand for jobs is considerable. Thirty people were hired at Homewood Bitty and Beau’s; at least that many are on a waiting list, Wright says.
But employee retention is strong, she says. “Most of our employees have never had jobs before so they’re very grateful, very hard-working, and very dedicated. One of the greatest compliments is when another business poaches one of our employees.”
Bitty and Beau’s bills itself as a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop. The Wrights use their company’s baristas to educate the public about inclusivity, and raise awareness among business owners about an untapped labor market.
“What we’re hoping to do through our coffee shops is elevate the conversation around people with disabilities,” she says. “We’re demonstrating what’s possible. Hopefully, as more people experience our shops, more people will disabilities will find jobs in other places, too.”
The Auburn location of Bitty and Beau’s, 100 North Gay Street, is open daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The Homewood location, 1625 Oxmoor Road, is open daily from 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m.