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Employing people with disabilities a huge success for new DC business

Bitty & Beau's Coffee started with one store in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2016. The company now has 24 locations in 12 states and D.C.

WASHINGTON — Photographers with those big long professional lenses were snapping shot after shot. It would have been easy to think a major celebrity had been spotted along M Street in Georgetown on a recent weekend. 

A massive crowd had overtaken the sidewalk and spilled onto the streets. There were massive throngs of people cheering, yelling and waving. 

Turns out it wasn't a celebrity sighting but a lifetime achievement being celebrated. Bitty & Beau's Coffee, a company centered around employing people with disabilities, was hosting its grand opening. The hundreds of people gathered were the family and friends of those who were recently hired to work at the new store.  

"For a lot of them it’s their first job," said Meghan Young of Bitty & Beau's Coffee when we met a few days later inside the Georgetown shop. 

"When they’re first born, parents are inundated with all that their child will never be able to do. All of a sudden, to have a job – people come to celebrate that. They’re coming to celebrate this achievement and that we’ve gotten to a place where people with disabilities can shine in this way."

The company began in 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina. The owners, Amy and Ben Wright, have four children. The oldest has autism and the two youngest, Bitty and Beau, have down syndrome.  

"When they looked to the future for their children, they know that 80% of people with disabilities don’t have a job. So they went out to change that," said Young. 

The company is enjoying incredible success and expansion. There are twenty-six new employees at the store in Georgetown and the entire company employs 350 people. What began with the one store in Wilmington has ballooned into a company of 24 stores across twelve states and D.C. Young says several more stores are in the works and will open soon.         

"I like serving at Bitty & Beau’s because I make people smile," said cashier Lena King as we chatted during a break in the near-constant stream of people popping into the new store.  

I sampled an iced coffee and it earned my five-star seal of approval. All of the employees were in great spirits and that attitude seemed to imbue everyone else in the store with an aura of happiness. 

"We're here to show people what’s possible for disabilities and that they make great employees," said Young. In fact, part of the mission behind Bitty & Beau's is to inspire people with other companies to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

In our nation's capital city, a well-timed smile and cup of coffee could lead to a groundbreaking change at any number of other D.C. corporate or governmental institutions. 

“I think a lot of customers will come in for the first time and might have their preconceived notions about people with disabilities or what a coffee shop run by people with disabilities might look like or taste like," said Young. "Our goal is to exceed those expectations."

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