A Little Falls, New Jersey coffee shop is aiming to change perspectives on employing adults with special needs—by educating people with special needs and providing them with jobs.
Pam Donovan’s son Ethan has autism and is non-verbal, and Donovan was worried that he would not succeed when preparing to join the workforce. So she and Ethan’s speech pathologist Marcia Gurian came up with a plan to open a coffee shop that employs and educates people like Ethan with special needs. The shop is called Ethan and the Bean.
“Our biggest reason definitely for starting Ethan and the Bean is my son,” Donovan told TODAY. “What was he going to do when he graduates high school? Even though there are jobs, they’re so few and far between. Unemployment right now for people with special needs is somewhere between 80 and 85%.”
“Our mission is to employ individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and change the mindset of society one cup of coffee at a time.”
Gurian works with Ethan to communicate using an iPad. That way, he can express how he feels about certain jobs and even greet customers using a voice on the iPad. Ethan expressed that one of his favorite jobs is grinding the beans.
“There is no reason today why an employer can’t hire these people because they are all able to communicate,” Gurian explained.
At Ethan and the Bean, all employees make minimum wage and above. Gurian noted that making that kind of money is not typical for individuals with special needs who often receive below minimum wage or volunteer for experience.
Donovan and Gurian also recruited students from a nearby university to help with training. Toby Hartog and Victoria Gazzillo helped teach ten individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities to grind and brew coffee, put logo stickers on cups, calculate change, figure out what to wear to a job interview, and fill out a job application.
The little shop sells coffee, lattes, hot chocolate, tea, and more. The coffee is supplied by Java Love, a Montclair-based roaster that uses sustainably sourced beans.
“I really enjoy working as a barista because I like to make new friends there,” Ethan and the Bean employee Michael Candido said. “My most favorite part is doing the register and talking to the customers.”
“It’s just so incredible, finally to be working for something major. I feel like this is going to be my big break,” added employee Thomas Krakoviak. “It can show that even with a disability, some people can have full potential doing such very excellent service!”