A Place of Acceptance
Now franchised with 25 locations in 13 states and the District of Columbia, Bitty and Beau’s Coffee started in Wilmington with a mission of inclusion.
A smiling cat greeted me at Bitty and Beau’s with a heartfelt and cheery “Hello there!” Which threw me off, because 1) I’m not a cat guy and 2) No cat I’ve ever met has been that friendly.
But she kept a big, bright smile on her face while asking, “How can I help you?”
Thus began my adventure into Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop.
There’s a very different, very special vibe to this place. It is far more than just a coffee shop, though coffee and merch are pretty much all you can buy.
But there are some things worth having that you cannot buy.
And two of them are the love and joy that Brittany and Joann — and I’m sure the other staffers — share with everyone who comes in Bitty and Beau’s.
With merchandise that advocates for the “unbroken,” and wall displays that speak to respect and understanding, Bitty and Beau’s is all about changing preconceived notions. Founded in 2016 by Jan Wright and her husband, Ben, Bitty and Beau’s makes no secret of its noble mission — which is to change the perceptions many have about handicapped folks. And that mission has exploded into many more Bitty and Beau’s locations across the country. Visit their website, especially this section, to get an appreciation for what the Wrights have wrought.
I was alerted to this inspirational site by two UNCW graduates — Olivia Clark and Kristen (soon to be) Fisher, who used to meet here during study sessions as they pursued their respective diplomas at UNCW. We met quite serendipitously at my hometown pub. They told me Bitty and Beau’s was a very special place. They were right.
The current manager of Bitty and Beau’s, Jay, also a UNCW grad, was most helpful in explaining the raison d’être behind the concept. He also was instrumental in getting both Brittany and Joann to pose with me for this story.
The coffee shop is spacious, airy and bright. It seems to be semi-attached to a car dealership, so there’s likely a backstory there that I did not investigate.
From the website:
Amy and Ben Wright began with an idea. As advocates for the value, acceptance, and inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Wrights have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place for their children and others living with disabilities.
Amy and Ben Wright are the proud parents of four children — Lillie, Emma Grace, Beau and Bitty. Lillie was born with autism, and Bitty and Beau were born with Down syndrome.
With over 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities unemployed nationwide, the Wrights believe that Bitty & Beau’s Coffee creates a path for people with disabilities to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.
Their merchandise reflects their mission. With gear that says “Not Broken” “Leave your doubt at the door,” and other sayings that ask us to value the differences among us, the Wilmington store merch says, “Started in Wilmington, NC in two thousand sixteen —dedicated to changing the way people see other people.”
Signs throughout the facility speak to showing respect for everyone and a “Wall of Thanks” for those who have supported the project (note the name in the far top left-hand corner).
The Pin map displays the pins of where people have come from far and wide to support the Wrights’ project here in Wilmington. There are even significant pieces of currency from foreign countries tacked to the board which attest to how others have been struck by what the Wrights are doing with their ideas.
As one who frequently describes himself as “getting paid to go to bars and drink beer,” I have left many an establishment feeling pretty good. But never as good as I felt leaving Bitty and Beau’s after drinking only coffee.
As Brittany and Joann each wished me a happy goodbye, I could not help but smile. I’m pretty sure my heart did the same.
And if you sometimes despair about the condition of today’s world, you should go.
Because everyone’s heart can use a smile.
Want to go?
Bitty and Beau’s
494 New Centre Drive, Wilmington