Coffee Shop In Auburn To Hire People With Special Needs

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop will have its grand opening in Auburn this July and is looking to hire 25 employees.

The North Carolina-based company proudly employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I honestly teared up when I read that we had a place like this,” said Katie Grizzle, the mother of an 8-year-old son with autism. “I’ve seen other places like this and I’ve always hoped we would have a place like this.”

On April 30, the company held its first local hiring fair as it searches for drink makers, greeters and cashiers for a Bitty and Beau’s on the first floor of the AuburnBank Center.

Other local parents are also encouraged by the mission of the coffee shop.

Lisa Self, who has a son with autism, said people underestimate children with special needs.

“The part that gets me is a lot of times people won’t give them a chance, and they don’t realize what they really can do,” Self said.

Michelle Norwood also has a business that employs people with disabilities after being inspired by Hunter, her son with Down syndrome. She opened an ice cream truck in 2018, and together they have scooped ice cream across town.

“It has given them just an opportunity to show the world how much ability is within any disability,” Norwood said. “The world shouldn’t run people off just because they may have weaknesses, because what I found is we all do.”

Bitty and Beau’s aims to create a welcoming community through their business, said Kate Harrington, a shift leader at the company’s Wilmington, North Carolina, location.

“The hiring process is really great because we don’t want it to be intimidating,” she said.

Applicants are asked to pre-register online and fill out an application on the day of the interview. Instead of one-on-one meetings, Bitty and Beau’s conducts group interviews with three to four candidates at once.

“We don’t really need to know why they’re such a good fit for this company,” Harrington said. “We know they’re a good fit, and we just want to make sure their personalities are shining.”

Once hired, they will be placed in a position that best meets their strengths and trained in a group setting a few days before the grand opening.

“You might have to put a little more time into training someone with an intellectual disability,” Norwood said, “but when they learn a skill, they’ve learned it to fidelity and they take it serious.”

Local businesses like Kroger and Publix also hire people with disabilities.

“It just erases the stigma of being afraid or nervous or not knowing what to expect when you hire someone with a disability,” Harrington said.

Organizations like the Exceptional Foundation of East Alabama, Auburn University’s EAGLES Program and Auburn High School’s Tiger Mochas are other resources in the area where those with disabilities can learn skills and make friends.

Toni Cartlidge, mother to a son with high-functioning autism, hopes to see more inclusive measures taken locally.

“There’s not too many places where our kids can go and feel safe and feel comfortable and not judged,” Cartlidge said.

In Auburn and Opelika, employing people with disabilities is a growing concept, and companies are discovering methods to make the process seamless.

Instead of using customer names, Bitty and Beau’s uses playing cards to lessen confusion. A customer placing an order receives a playing card that will be called out by the greeters when the item is ready.

Employee shifts at the coffee shop range from two to four hours.

“We can really get in there and normalize these amazing people with disabilities that are going to make your day and do a great job at their job,” Harrington said, “and they feel really good about it.”

The Bitty and Beau’s in Auburn plans to open before the end of the summer.

“I hope that it’s going to bring the community together and bring more awareness to special needs,” Grizzle said.