A staggering 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed.
It was this sobering realization that drove Amy and Ben Wright of Wilmington to first open Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in 2016.
The shop, which is a namesake for the couple’s youngest children, has become known nationwide for its advocacy of the value, inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Bitty and Beau’s currently employs more than 120 disabled people across its six locations and has garnered attention from Southern Living magazine, Today and CNN, which named Amy Wright CNN Hero of the Year in 2017.
Locals Amie and Vic Cennamo have long admired the difference that Bitty and Beau’s has made in the disabled community — a community they have actively been involved with since moving to Charlotte 17 years ago with their autistic son, Ryan (they also have a daughter Julia, 14). “We loved their mission and wished they would open a Bitty & Beau’s in Charlotte,” Vic Cennamo said. “We reached out to them a few years ago, but they were not franchising at the time.”
The timing of Bitty and Beau’s franchising announcement in August aligned perfectly with Ryan’s expected graduation from high school this spring. “They often tell parents of children with disabilities not to think too far ahead,” Amie Cennamo said. “But as Ryan entered high school, we wondered what he would do after high school. There are not a lot of post-secondary options for the disabled. When the Wrights announced that they would be franchising, it was really the perfect time.”
The Charlotte location will be just the second franchised location for Bitty & Beau’s, behind Washington, D.C. “The response was overwhelming. We got hundreds of requests from around the world, but Charlotte was the one city where we heard from the most people,” Amy Wright said. “We have a very thorough vetting process because it is important to us that the mission and values of Bitty and Beau’s are maintained. When we talked to the Cennamos and heard their story, we could tell how personal this effort was for them and said, let’s go.”
The Bitty & Beau’s experience
Walking into a Bitty & Beau’s is a warm, welcoming and energizing experience. “We intentionally don’t have drive thrus. We wanted to create a sense of community, a place where people come in and spend time together,” Wright said. “Bitty and Beau’s is more than a cup of coffee — it’s a human rights movement.”
Known by locals as “The Happiest Place in Wilmington,” the pace may be a little slower for guests, but it’s exponentially more fulfilling. Most of the staff have never had jobs before and their pride and sense of ownership radiates off of them as evidenced by the various staff testimonials on the Bitty & Beau’s website.
The Cennamos are in the process of finalizing Bitty & Beau’s Charlotte location and hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks. The shop’s planned opening is mid-2021.
“Given the chance to show their skills, these individuals are truly capable. It may look different or take longer, you may have to teach them differently, but there are so many ways for them to make an impact,” Amie Cennamo said.
In addition to its flagship store in Wilmington, Bitty & Beau’s has locations in Annapolis, Charleston and Savannah as well as in two corporate partner locations in Wilmington.
Editor’s note: We will update this story when Bitty & Beau’s is ready to announce its Charlotte location.
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