It’s been a year since swarms of people waited in line at A Special Blend coffee shop on opening day. The non profit is located on West Market Street in Greensboro and staffed by employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But what’s most special about the coffee shop, according to owner Deedee Ungetheim, is how impactful it has been not only for customers, but for her staff, too.
The idea for A Special Blend came from Ungetheim’s experience stopping in at Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop in Wilmington. When Ungetheim saw Bitty and Beau’s business model, she realized just how many opportunities for connection and community were possible for adults who are differently abled.
“I was starting to realize how few choices there were for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ungetheim said. “I was finding out things like 80% of adults with disability are unemployed and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness it’s no way for people to live.’”
In North Carolina alone, 664,961 adults between the ages of 20 and 60 years-old were registered with a disability in 2018. And of that number, 39% were participating in the labor force. Nationally, however, 20% of people registered with disability are participating in the labor force.
As a parent of a child with an intellectual developmental disability, Ungetheim said that people aren’t unkind, but instead rather awkward when interacting with people who have disabilities. When Ungetheim saw how Bitty and Beau’s was fostering better relationships between community members, she became obsessed with the idea of opening a similar shop in Greensboro.
“What captured my attention more than anything was this lovely interaction between the customers and the employees,” Ungetheim said. “This sense of getting to know one another, breaking down walls.”
After her trip to Bitty and Beau’s in Wilmington, Ungetheim said she began figuring out how much it would cost to open her own store. To have A Special Blend properly fitted with equipment and furniture, it was going to cost upwards of $300,000. Raising this money, however, was not a problem because the community in Greensboro was in full support of A Special Blend. In just 15 months, the money was raised from donations and Ungetheim was ready to begin opening the store.
Ungetheim remembers many special moments as the store was opening, like when the sign was officially put up or on opening day when 1,200 people circled the store for nine hours straight. Ungetheim said that experience, watching the lines move, was just thrilling.
Ungetheim said that with so many new shops opening up around the state, like in Cary, Greenville and Raleigh as well as the nine already operational, she believes the business model and idea has “really taken root.” Ungetheim said she gets calls from all over the county asking for advice on how to build their business models to incorporate employees who have disabilities. Because of the national interest, she wants to develop a seminar series to share among the network of shops what has worked, what hasn’t and how to be as successful as possible.