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15 Minutes with: Amy Wright

August 2018
15 Minutes with: Amy Wright

Meet the passionate owner of Bitty & Beau’s, a coffee shop with locations in Charleston and Wilmington run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Amy Wright travels often from Wilmington to downtown Charleston to lead her team at Bitty & Beau’s on Church Street.

CM: Did you grow up in the Carolinas?
AW:
I lived on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania until I was 10, then my family and I moved to Chapel Hill, which is where they’ve lived ever since. My husband, Ben, and I spent a few years in New York City, but we wanted to raise kids closer to my family, so we settled in Wilmington around 20 years ago.

CM: What inspired Bitty & Beau’s?
AW:
Because my two youngest children, Bitty (who’s nine) and Beau (who’s 14), have Down syndrome, I always think about their futures. I was in the shower one day in November 2015, and the idea of opening a coffee shop hit me. I imagined a place where people with and without disabilities could sit together and share cups of coffee. So a few months later, in January 2016, we opened our first shop in Wilmington, staffed mainly by people with disabilities.

CM: How did the community respond?
AW:
Well, I immediately knew we needed a bigger space! I was surprised but thrilled by how popular the café was. We were visited by kids on school field trips and people from out of state, and many left notes afterwards, saying how much they loved the experience. Even the people who didn’t know what they were walking into were transformed, which was so rewarding.

CM: How have you seen your employees thrive in the shop?
AW:
Most of our staff have never had jobs before, so it’s helped them build self-confidence and interact with people. They’re not living in isolation; they have real-world responsibilities and a sense of purpose.

CM: Are there other inclusive businesses in the country that you admire?
AW:
That’s part of the reason I felt it was my duty to open one—I couldn’t think of a single other business that’s doing this. Other companies will hire people with disabilities, but they’re often placed in the background, in the warehouses. I wanted them to be in the spotlight.

CM: What did you love about Charleston?
AW:
When we were deciding where to open a second shop, we asked our followers on Instagram for city suggestions, and we received an overwhelming response from people in Charleston. We’ve loved visiting the city as a family for years, so it was an easy choice. And even though the food and beverage scene is world-class here, we’ve felt so welcome.

CM: What’s a can’t-miss menu item?
AW:
In the heat of the summer, our iced coffee drinks and frappes are delicious. Last year, Rachael Ray named our house coffee—Beau’s Blend—the official coffee of The Rachael Ray Show. I told our staff, “If we’re good enough for Rachael Ray, we must be pretty darn good.”

CM: How do you spend your days?
AW:
I’m always juggling motherhood and business. Along with Bitty and Beau, I have two older daughters, Lillie (who’s 19) and Emma-Grace (who’s 18). I’m very hands-on with our work crew, so I’ll drive down to Charleston frequently to help out. We’re also constructing another shop in Savannah that’s projected to open this October. At the end of the day, I focus on my family. Every night, we eat dinner together at the table, and I love reading to my kids before bed.

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Photographs by (2-Amy Wright & Staff) Matt Ray & courtesy of (The Spectator Hotel) the hotel