Inclusive Java Shop Is Welcoming to All
Coffee Inclusive is anything but your standard café.
In fact, it’s so much more. As the first of its kind in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the coffeehouse in Pittston is exclusively inclusive. Employing individuals with diverse abilities alongside experienced baristas.
Behind the counter of the bright, modern and welcoming space, located on the second floor of the Waterfront Warehouse on Kennedy Boulevard, you’ll be greeted by employees with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, autism and down syndrome who are involved in every aspect of the shop. From preparing and serving hot coffee, cold smoothies, fresh juices and delicious treats to cutting fruit and cleaning up, they work seamlessly alongside their barista counterparts.
That’s not by accident.
The nonprofit coffee shop, which opened earlier this year, is a subsidiary of NEPA Inclusive. The nonprofit organization was founded by President/CEO Frank Bartoli in 2013. It provides services that help those with diverse abilities lead inclusive, sustainable lives. They offer in-home and community assistance, job training, employment and housing services and other types of advocacy and support programs.
One component that is notably lacking but important for living inclusively in our communities is the opportunity for those with disabilities to thrive in customer-facing job settings. With NEPA Inclusive’s experience in job training and coaching, opening their own coffee shop was a natural fit.
Nicole Tugen, Coffee Inclusive Manager and NEPA Inclusive program supervisor, has been so impressed by the 12 individuals with disabilities currently employed as coffee attendants, whom she calls “pretty awesome” people. “We’ve (already) had people go out into the community to work because they’ve gained independence,” thanks to the skills they learned at Coffee Inclusive.
Building Independence One Cup at a Time
Coffee Inclusive fosters a relaxed and rewarding environment for neurodiverse individuals.
Through their work at the shop, they gain insight and skills at tasks such as drink making, money handling, customer service, and more. All while serving up coffees, teas, lattes, smoothies and smoothie bowls and pressed juices.
Tom Carlucci, the coffee shops’ team lead and NEPA Inclusive quality assurance manager, knew from experience that people with intellectual disabilities could do great things. But even he is awestruck by their quick success.
“It really has been pretty exciting to see from the beginning. We have one person with a disability who already has experience within the industry, but the rest of them did not. Yet we are seeing (them) be able to pull a ticket from the receipt, put it right on the coffee cup and run it right down the assembly line. It’s pretty impressive.”
“We’re amazed at how quickly the people that we hired to work in Coffee Inclusive, as coffee attendants with disabilities, picked up the job and are able to do the job with no job coaching,” adds Frank. “They transitioned to the job and do the job very well with very limited need of support. And that’s been interesting to see.”
Assistant Manager Ally McGee echoes both their sentiments. “It’s very rewarding to see people getting better at something. Even if it’s in small steps. Like okay, you poured a shot of espresso. Next time, you make a whole latte, which is really nice to see.”
For Cherie Klush, a coffee attendant who has been with the shop since it opened, she’s gained more than just job experience. “I actually got better at dealing with people. Because that skill (socializing) was not possible for me.”
Creating Change with Every Pour
The idea behind Coffee Inclusive is to provide job opportunities to those with disabilities.
But it has also become a catalyst to encourage other employers in the area to hire them as well. As Frank notes, outside of warehouse and supermarket jobs, which are predominantly behind the scenes without public interaction, there are limited job options available.
“We can do better,” says Frank in regards to job options for those with disabilities. “They still lag significantly behind the general population. When we get to a point that all the businesses see the value in these individuals with disabilities and hire them, then Coffee Inclusive won’t need to exist anymore.”
The coffee shop has been so well-received in the community that there is currently a waitlist of experienced baristas and coffee attendants who wish to join the team.
“It really took off because it was sort of an eye-opening thing for employers and community members to see. There is very strong value to people with diverse abilities in an employment setting that everyone can see.”
Jeffrey Mazur, coffee attendant and NEPA Inclusive board member, playfully known by the staff as the “mayor” due to his love of socializing, communicates best why Coffee Inclusive is such a special place to work and visit. “We have employees that are very caring about our customers,” he says. “And we’re all workers that have disabilities and we’re proving that we can hold a job.”
The coffee shop is currently open six days per week. They offer to-go service, indoor and outdoor seating as well as curbside pickup. Visit their social page for hours and seasonal specials.
Wondering what to try on your visit to Coffee Inclusive?
Here’s what some of the coffee attendants recommend:
DJ: Acai Immunity Smoothie
Janet: Classic smoothie and classic coffee
Jeffrey: Coffee Chiller
Coffee Inclusive is changing lives with every cup. The warm, welcoming environment, with friendly staff and delicious sips and snacks is a coffee shop you have to try! Whether you need a casual place to meet with friends, are taking a break from your busy workday, or are grabbing a quick caffeine fix on the go, the intellectually disabled coffee attendants and baristas at Coffee Inclusive are ready to whip up your custom order.