Amy and Ben Wright are parents to four children: Lillie, Emma Grace, Beau and Bitty. Lillie was born with autism. Bitty and Beau were both born with Down syndrome.
“As the parents of kids with disabilities, you start thinking about their future,” Amy Wright said. “One of the things that Ben and I were astonished to learn was that 80% of people with disabilities were unemployed in our country.
“We don’t want that for our family. We didn’t want that to be OK with society,” Amy added. So in 2016, the Wrights opened the first Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a cafe employing 19 individuals with disabilities, in their hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.
“While we created these jobs for individuals with disabilities, the greater impact of the coffee shop was the experience guests were having when they came into the shop,” Amy said.
The first Bitty & Beau’s location saw visitors from across the country, and even the world, visiting it.
“It became really clear to us early on that there was a need for this everywhere, not just in our own community,” Amy said.
Bitty & Beau’s now has 17 locations employing over 400 people with disabilities with another six stores launching soon, including one at 1468 Pearl St. in Boulder — set to open in September.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, around 5.5% of Boulder County’s population under the age of 65 identified as having a disability — defined as serious difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition or ambulation — between 2017 and 2021. That’s more than 18,000 people.
Every Bitty & Beau’s location employs around 30 people with disabilities, along with a five- to eight-member support team that supervises and assists employees as needed.
“Sometimes, for adults with disabilities, life can feel very isolating,” Amy said. Though schools often offer support services for students with disabilities through high school, Amy said many are left without help navigating their next steps after graduation.
“We wanted to start building a better community place where our kids would grow up feeling valued and know their worth,” Amy said. “They want to be a part of the economic fabric of society.
Menus are the same at all Bitty & Beau’s locations, featuring specialty coffee drinks, teas, smoothies and frappes. The shops also sell bagels, muffins and other assorted baked goods. Amy’s favorite is the gourmet crispy treat — a 4-inch cube of Rice Krispies with toppings. Flavors include cookies and cream, rainbow sprinkles, fruity loops and seasonal options.
Boulder’s Bitty & Beau’s
Bitty & Beau’s is a franchise business. Those interested in licensing an operation apply online, and the Wrights personally review all applications.
Though the initial franchise fee is $40,000, Bitty & Beau’s website states that the cost of owning one of its coffee shops ranges from around $460,000 to $860,000. To be considered, interested franchise owners must have $200,000 in liquid capital and $800,000 in net worth.
“It takes somebody with a heart to do this, but it also takes somebody with great business experience and instincts,” Wright said of Bitty & Beau’s franchisees.
Jeff and Julia Fetzer are the franchise owners of Bitty & Beau’s Boulder location, the first in Colorado. The couple owned a semi-professional soccer team in Houston, Texas. Recently, they moved to Boulder to open the coffee shop but also to be closer to nearby family and friends and the outdoors.
“Nobody in their family directly has a disability, just a keen heart for spending time with people with disabilities and elevating their lives,” Amy said.
The oldest of the Fetzer’s three sons, Nicholas, graduated this year from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s business school and will be the Boulder Bitty & Beau’s general manager. On his summers off, Nicholas was a counselor at Beloved and Beyond, a camp in Texas for those with differing abilities.
The Fetzers were approved as franchise owners in spring 2022. Since then, the family has been responsible for finding and fixing up a location in Boulder for the cafe, running their options and decisions by the Wrights.
After searching for a few months, the Fetzers chose to rent 1468 Pearl St., a 1,500-square-foot store next to Postino’s Wine Bar and Liberty Puzzles. The family recognized the coveted foot traffic around the cafe, often demonstrated by a steady flow of students, tourists and locals.
“For us, to have a shop there in Boulder, especially on Pearl Street,” Amy said, “we feel like we’re going to reach so many people with our mission and introduce them to this brand.”