Brewster McLeod might be a retired pastor, but he is still keeping busy by serving his community. McLeod has hired 50 employees, or VIPs, with special needs to work at his new coffee shop, McLeod’s Coffee House. His hope is not only to serve people with special needs but also to help others see that they are not any different from the rest of us.
“If Down syndrome or special needs make you nervous,” he told WKYT News, “you probably need to come in here and relax and just treat them like anyone else.”
More Understanding for People with Special Needs
McLeod, who served at Southland Christian Church for over 40 years, has had the idea for the coffee shop for a while now. He will be training his team to be equipped for every role the coffee shop has, from managing to washing dishes to running the cash register.
“They got joy, they got a heart, and they want to work,” he said. In addition to providing employment and good coffee, McLeod’s Coffee House will also be providing an environment where people who have special needs can feel comfortable and welcome. Employee Megan Gaines says she is looking forward to working behind the cash register and that other businesses in the area could learn from McLeod’s about how to be more accessible to people who have disabilities. There is a need, she says, for “ramps or wider open spaces, wider open walkways, accessible bathrooms.”
Says Gaines, “We still want to have friends, we still want to do things, we still want to go out and hang out with our friends, and just do normal stuff.” Manager Juannell Spotts also says that McLeod’s Coffee House gives him hope that there will be a place where his sons, who have autism, can work when they grow older.
Another goal McLeod has for the coffee shop is that it will encourage other businesses to be more open to the idea of hiring people who have special needs. He told WKYT, “My prayer is that everyone on Southland Drive, they come over here for a good cup of coffee, hot chocolate, iced tea, diet coke, and a sandwich and then meet Megan or they meet Jeremy and someone may stop me and say, ‘Brewster, can you tell me about Jeremy? Could he give me two hours at the gas station?’”
Brewster McLeod is not alone in his efforts to serve his community and people with special needs by means of a coffee shop. In early 2016, Amy Wright opened a coffee shop in North Carolina named Bitty & Beau’s that is run by people with “intellectual and developmental disabilities.” The shop is named after Wright’s two youngest children, who have Down syndrome, and has since added locations in other states.
Wright says, “When you become a parent of a child with special needs, you are instantly thrust into becoming an advocate. Trying to make people see the beauty in their lives that we see.”
McLeod also wants his community see that beauty. He hopes that the Grand Opening of McLeod’s Coffee House will take place sometime around mid-October and for there to be some soft openings ahead of that.
Come see some of these faces when #McLeodsCoffeeHouse opens! Brewster told me he’s aiming for Oct. 15-20, with some soft openings in advance!
See that edgy artwork on the walls? The seats you’ll be sitting in? It’s for sale, too! Shop while you sip. pic.twitter.com/mnfu5M7oYY
— Shelby Lofton (@ShelbyWKYT) September 24, 2019