Ashley Connelly’s eyes light up when you order a coffee. “Light, medium, or dark roast,” he asks. Julia Lesnik is behind the counter, too, eager to serve a pastry from the display case. They are both employees at the new coffee shop, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which arrived in Melrose in late August.
But even before the shop opened its doors, the founders had already unlocked doors for many. Bitty & Beau’s, a franchise, is staffed with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Amy and Ben Wright opened the first one in 2016 in their hometown, Wilmington, N.C., and named the place for their two youngest children born with Down syndrome. Bitty is now 13, and Beau is 17. The Wrights overarching mission is to bring jobs to people with disabilities, who are largely unemployed, and show they can be competent and valued employees.
“We’re serving more than coffee,” says Amy in a phone interview. “Coffee is just a vehicle for delivering our message.”
First to hear this message was Rachel Ray, the popular television host who featured the Wright family on her show. This sparked national press and landed Amy the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year award. The Melrose shop is the seventh, with more opening across the country. You know there’s a story here, for the storefront window is adorned with the words “As Seen On The Today Show, Good Morning America, Rachel Ray, CNN, People, Southern Living, and more.”
Local franchisee Maryanne O’Donnell, a biochemist and mother of six, stumbled on the first Bitty & Beau’s several years ago when visiting her son in college. “I sat and had a great cup of coffee, and when I left, I had a really good feeling,” she said. The feeling ignited the idea that running her own Bitty & Beau’s would be a new and meaningful endeavor. The community agreed — hundreds came for the grand opening. And then there’s the coffee — robust cups brewed with beans roasted by Ben Wright and shipped from their home location. Also offered are muffins, cookies and bagels. The spot is sizable and airy; dark walls lend a sleek look; wooden benches and tables help give the shop a comfortable vibe. It’s a place that makes you want to linger. 462 Main St., Melrose. 781-248-2465, bittyandbeauscoffee.com/location/boston.
ANN TRIEGER KURLAND
Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.