By ANSLEY FRANCO, Opelika-Auburn News
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – Bitty and Beau’s cafe will open in Auburn in July and is looking to hire 25 employees.
The North Carolina-based company proudly employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I honestly cried when I read we had a place like this,” said Katie Grizzle, the mother of an 8-year-old son with autism. “I’ve seen other places like this and always hoped we would have a place like this.”
On April 30, the company held its first local job fair as it sought beverage makers, hostesses and cashiers for a Bitty and Beau’s on the first floor of the AuburnBank Center.
Other local parents are also encouraged by the cafe’s mission.
Lisa Self, who has an autistic son, said people underestimate children with special needs.
“What attracts me is that often people don’t give them a chance and realize what they can really do,” Self said.
Michelle Norwood also has a business that employs people with disabilities after being inspired by Hunter, her son with Down syndrome. She opened an ice cream truck in 2018, and together they scooped up ice cream across town.
“It just gave them the opportunity to show the world how capable each handicap is,” Norwood said. “The world shouldn’t chase people just because they have weaknesses, because what I’ve found is that we all do.”
Bitty and Beau’s aim to create a welcoming community through their business, said Kate Harrington, shift manager at the company’s location in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“The hiring process is really great because we don’t want it to be intimidating,” she said.
Candidates are invited to pre-register online and complete a file on the day of the interview. Instead of individual meetings, Bitty and Beau’s conduct group interviews with three to four candidates at a time.
“We don’t really need to know why they’re such a good fit for this business,” Harrington said. “We know they’re doing well, and we just want to make sure their personalities shine through.”
Once hired, they will be placed in a position that best matches their strengths and trained as a group a few days before the inauguration.
“You may have to spend a little more time training someone with an intellectual disability,” Norwood said, “but when they learn a skill, they’ve learned it with fidelity and they take it to heart. serious.”
Local companies like Kroger and Publix also hire people with disabilities.
“It just erases the stigma of being scared or not knowing what to expect when you hire someone with a disability,” Harrington said.
Other resources in the area where people with disabilities can learn skills and to make friends.
Toni Cartlidge, mother of a son with high-functioning autism, hopes to see more inclusive measures taken locally.
“There aren’t too many places where our kids can go and feel safe and comfortable and not judged,” Cartlidge said.
In Auburn and Opelika, employing people with disabilities is a growing concept, and companies are discovering ways to make the process transparent.
Instead of using customer names, Bitty and Beau’s use playing cards to reduce confusion. A customer placing an order receives a playing card which will be called by greeters when the item is ready.
Employee shifts at the cafe range from two to four hours.
“We can really get in there and normalize these amazing people with disabilities who are going to make your day and do a great job at their job,” Harrington said, “and they feel really good about it.”
Bitty and Beau’s in Auburn plans to open before the end of the summer.
“Hopefully this will bring the community together and bring more awareness to special needs,” Grizzle said.
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