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Coronavirus relief lets coffee house rehire 120 workers with disabilities

'More than a cup of coffee'

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Awarding a coronavirus-relief loan to Bitty & Beau's Coffee Shops did far more than save a small chain with a big reputation for a good cup of joe.

It enabled owner Amy Wright, whose business was the first to secure Paycheck Protection Program funds from Live Oak Bank -- a top originator -- to rehire 120 employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities at a time when millions of U.S. residents are losing jobs.

The cash, made available through a Congressional initiative to help small businesses weather an economic shutdown intended to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, saved the company's five coffee shops across the southeastern U.S.

The Wrights -- who named their business after two of their youngest children, Bitty & Beau, who have Down syndrome -- have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities -- a population with a roughly 80 percent unemployment rate.

Bitty & Beau's began in 2016 with a single shop, Beau’s Coffee, a 500-square-foot business nestled in Wilmington, North Carolina, with 19 employees. Since then, the Wrights have expanded into five coffeehouses powered with the joviality of workers who have garnered national recognition for their smiles, hugs and dance moves.

"I love working with our amazing team," said Matt, a Bitty & Beau's employee. "We work hard and enjoy a great positive energy. I’ve loved it since day one because of all of the great vibes.”

Months after opening, the original shop was renamed and moved into a larger location. Three years later, the Wrights opened a second shop in Charleston, South Carolina, and by 2019, the chain was fueling caffeine fanatics from Savannah, Georgia, to Annapolis, Maryland.

"I love my job because I feel famous," said Trevor, an employee at the shop. "My favorite part is dancing to Justin Beiber."

It's an attitude the Wrights love. For them, the business isn't just selling beverages and making money: It's a chance to "change the way people accept, include, love, respect, see and value" each other.

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