GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – There’s a new place in town to get your morning coffee, and it has a special touch.
Awaken Coffee is a nonprofit coffee shop that employs more than 30 people with intellectual disabilities.
“I honestly didn’t know I was in a different coffee shop,” said Trey Quinn, a board member of Awaken. “I walked in, everyone was very professional, asked me what I wanted, small, medium, large, dark or house roast.”
The people behind the counter are what makes this place special.
“We all want a job and feel like we belong somewhere,” said Carol Preston, the president and co-founder of Awaken. “Most of our employees this is their first job.”
Preston said a lot of times these employees don’t have many other job opportunities.
“There are several instances where our employees have tried to get a job, but it just didn’t work out,” Preston said. “Here we train with the accommodations. We have one employee who wants to know the time all the time, so we got him a clock. It’s also pretty noisy in here, so you’ll see one or two of our employees who have headphones on and that’s perfectly fine. We’re unique in that.”
There’s 11 brew crew team members behind the counter and 21 Awaken allies in the front of the shop. They’re all learning a lot of soft skills.
“Communication, we have a couple of folks on the cashier that have a hard time looking you in the eye and they do that now,” she said. “Answering questions, ‘Does this have gluten in it? Can I get that with low fat or sugar-free?”
They’re also learning to brew coffee.
“When it came down to the espresso machine, that’s where it got rocky that made your brain turn on because of how many steps there are,” said Wynne Peaks, a brew crew member.
Most importantly though, the employees are being given a safe space to learn, grow and have a little fun.
“I don’t think I’ve actually smiled this much in a job,” Peaks said. “I usually don’t smile that often when I’m working because I try to take it as seriously as I can, but when I get a chance I will smile when I need to.”
The grand opening and ribbon cutting for Awaken Coffee is on April 29 at 9 a.m. Until then, they’ll be having various soft opening events. When they’re officially up and running, they’ll be open Wednesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.