EXCLUSIVE: New Space, New Opportunities

On June 19, 321 Coffee made an exciting announcement: over the next few weeks, they will be expanding their space at the State Farmer’s Market and roasting their own beans! Not only will the addition of a roaster allow customers to enjoy coffee roasted by 321’s baristas at home, but it will create new work opportunities for those employed at 321 Coffee.

I had the opportunity to speak with the directors of 321 Coffee – Lindsay, Michael, and Liam – and talk about their excitement for the new space, roasting their own beans, and creating new job opportunities.

What kind of impact do you expect the new space to make on the Raleigh community? On your baristas?

LINDSAY: The impact on the baristas will be huge. It will offer a new and different type of job opportunity, one that works with different skill sets. I think it will allow the baristas to be more involved in 321 Coffee as a whole, because not only are we making coffee, but we are also roasting beans and I hope that is something they can take pride in.

LIAM: I think Raleigh has a good mindset as far as being socially minded. There are a lot of businesses, such as A Place at the Table for example, that are socially minded and do well in Raleigh, but I think that for the most part, there is not a large market for socially-minded coffee roasters. [The new space] allows us to enter a new market in a sense, and it would be a great addition for the Raleigh community.

MICHAEL: For Raleigh, it is my hope that [the new space] makes more people aware of what [321 Coffee] is doing and in turn it gets more people thinking about our mission and how they can make an impact at their own place [by ordering beans to roast at home].

What role has community support for 321 Coffee played in your decision to expand?

LINDSAY: [Community support] is exactly why we are expanding. We come out [to the State Farmer’s Market], and we are in a small space, we aren’t very conveniently located, but we have a great crowd, even during a pandemic! I think that just shows that there is a big community behind the mission, behind the baristas, and behind 321 Coffee, and that gives us the confidence that if we will continue to expand that we will continue to see that support and it will immensely contribute to our future success.

LIAM: Community support is everything for the type of thing we are doing, right? To be able to expand, you need community support, and with the amount of community support we have, I think it is very easy for us to justify expanding into this new space and roasting our own beans, and it is also easy to justify moving into future locations around Raleigh in the Triangle area.

Tell me more about the new job opportunities you will be creating through roasting your own beans.

LIAM: Right now, everything has been about baristas. You have a lot more customer-based employment opportunities, but by adding a roaster to our space, we can accommodate a lot more adults with different abilities.

MICHAEL: [We are creating job opportunities] that are less customer-service oriented and more focused on creating a product and being able to get that product to consumers.

LIAM: I think [creating less customer-oriented job opportunities] is important because right now I don’t feel like our employment options provide opportunities for adults that are non-verbal, and that would be a huge addition for our roasting business.

What excites you the most about the upcoming expansion, and why?

LINDSAY: I hope [the new space] changes the perception of 321 Coffee. I personally have been very proud of what we have here, I think it is a truly functioning coffee shop that looks very modern and aesthetically pleasing, but the reality of it is that [our current space] is the size of a parking spot. It is very small. We have a lot of customers that will come in and say, “Oh, I love this, where is your real store?” and I say, “Oh, well, this is it,” and as I said, I am really proud of our current space, but with the expansion, we will have more space, new furniture, and seating, and I think that gives more credibility to our organization and the work that our baristas are doing. Ultimately, it solidifies that these individuals are contributing at a high level and have a place in the workforce.

MICHAEL: I’m most excited about the opportunity for people to engage with 321 Coffee in a new way and being able to support us at home [through purchasing our beans]. I am also excited about the possibility of expanding our hours at the Farmer’s Market and being able to increase our presence in Raleigh.

LIAM: For me, I think it’s progress. Our goal has always been to grow and not to just remain in the same space we have always been in. With everything going on with COVID-19, we have had to pivot a little bit from our previous plans and the addition of a roaster presents a really exciting and fairly easy opportunity to grow in our job offerings and in the hours that we can offer our employees.

Why is it important to you that 321 Coffee continues to create new opportunities for individuals with IDD?

MICHAEL: The more opportunities that we can offer, the more we can show the way businesses should be run and provide a model of inclusion that we hope people will follow.

LINDSAY: Ultimately, what we are trying to do is demonstrate a viable business model based on inclusion and create a cultural shift towards inclusion, whether that is inclusion in the workforce or what your company gives their time and money to. The more opportunities you give [to individuals with IDD], the more exposure you can give to this model of inclusion.

LIAM: We talk a lot about the statistic that says that 80% of adults with IDD are unemployed. Though we were aware of that statistic, I don’t think we ever realized how big of a problem it actually was. Right now, we are only able to offer limited hours to 21 paid employees, and we have an additional 15-16 volunteers that would like to become employees and another 20 people that want to be involved in 321 Coffee in some capacity. That’s 60 adults with IDD looking for opportunities, so the more opportunities we can provide, the more adults with IDD that have something to put on their resume. Our goal is to provide individuals with IDD with meaningful work opportunities, whether that is with us or with another company.

The grand opening of 321 Coffee’s new space will take place from July 10th-12th at their State Farmer’s Market location in Raleigh. 321 Coffee also plans to have their beans available for purchase in early August.