A Special Blend is Coming to High Point!

Employees at A Special Blend, a Greensboro coffee shop.

In 2016, Deedee Ungetheim strolled into a coffee shop in Wilmington, NC that would change her life. Bitty and Beau’s, a coffee shop that first started in Wilmington to employee individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs), was unlike any place Deedee had ever been before. 

“I was thrilled to see people have meaningful employment,” Deedee remembers, “and I was so struck by the interaction of the customers and the employees. They were getting to know one another and breaking down walls. There was laughter. It was this really happy place!” 

The experience was so impactful to Deedee that she began to think what would it look like to start this in her own home of Greensboro, NC.  

“I am not a business person, and I am not a coffee person,” she admits with a laugh. But Deedee is the one who “had the crazy nutty idea."  

A counselor by trade and a mother of a son with intellectual disabilities, Deedee had spent a lot of time observing firsthand how difficult life can be for individuals with disabilities post high school graduation. 

“I saw students just graduate and sit at home,” she reflects. “And 80% of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities are unemployed. They just don't have meaningful ways to spend their days.”  

Employment and job training of individuals with an IDD were obviously positive outcomes of opening a coffee shop like this in the Triad. But Deedee saw another positive byproduct of the coffee shop: meaningful connection. 

“The community needs to know these wonderful people," Deedee says of the individuals the coffee shop was planning to employee. “They don't get to know them because they're not together in school. They're not together in the workplace." So her vision was for that blending of worlds to happen in the coffee shop. 

Aptly named, A Special Blend began coming to life. The volunteers that came out of the Greensboro community to launch this idea alongside Deedee were made up of volunteers, many who would go on to become members of the Board of Directors, and many who had children with IDDs themselves. 

The exterior of A Special Blend, a coffee shop in Greensboro, NC.
A Special Blend - Greensboro, Located at 3900 W Market St, Greensboro, NC 27407

They decided to pursue their 501(c)3 status to make A Special Blend a certified non-profit, and when they opened their doors at their Greensboro location in November of 2018, they had over 1,200 customers on the first day. Their continued success can be chalked up to the excellence of the employees, management, and product, all of which Deedee says was intentional.  

“It couldn’t just be a 501c3,” Deedee explains. “It had to be a good coffee shop.”   

The proof is in the pudding – or in the coffee! – as A Special Blend is consistently ranked one of Greensboro’s top coffee shops and was named outstanding employer of the year in 2019 by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. Today, the store employees 20 paid employees who all have IDDs, and who work as cashiers and baristas.  

And while A Special Blend is thriving now, Deedee and the other directors on the board decided they didn’t want to rest on the laurels. More than 13,000 people in the Triad have an intellectual or developmental disability, and the team had a vision for opening additional locations so that even more individuals could benefit from the shop – and so that even more people could meet their neighbors with IDDs.  

An employee stands at the counter at A Special Blend.

“From the beginning it was High Point,” Deedee says, when the A Special Blend team was scoping out their next location. And despite setbacks in timeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, A Special Blend is excited to announce their new High Point location which will be opening at 504 N. Main St. – right in downtown High Point!  

The team is now working hard to fundraise the initial start-up and upfit costs to make sure that A Special Blend – High Point is sustainable as a 501(c)3. But the benefits of having a welcoming, accommodating space – with great coffee no less! – in our city are tremendous.  

A Special Blend operates a little differently than a typical coffee shop. Rather than focus on speed and efficiency, the people at A Special Blend focus on meaningful connection. Accommodations for the needs of the employees – shorter shifts, places to sit down for those with physical disabilities, and quiet spaces – are all part of the plan.  

Jobs are even broken down, so that there are “hot baristas” who make the more complicated espresso drinks and “cold baristas” who make flavored teas, smoothies, and Italian sodas. This allows employees the freedom to focus on learning one task at a time.

And in addition to the staff of paid employees, A Special Blend wanted to allow for even more individuals to have impactful, growing experiences, so they created their Job Training program or “Café Crew.” The individuals in this program can volunteer their time to receive training in social, interaction, and job skills, and work alongside others in the café.  

And Deedee and the A Special Blend team hopes that other employers began to see the opportunity they have to hire those individuals with IDDs.  

“We want to cast the vision of thinking about the giftedness and value of everyone,” she says. “It’s a win-win for everyone when places of employment would take the opportunity to think outside the box.” 

“I have plenty of disabilities,” she adds. “There are lots and lots of things that I cannot do, but I don't want people to see me for what I can't do. I want people to see me for what I can do. And that's no different for somebody with Autism or Down Syndrome. There's plenty of things they can do but they often get labeled for what they can't do.” 

That’s why A Special Blend focuses largely on building up the confidence of their employees and empowering them that they have gifts and talents and personality they can take into the careers in the working world. By preparing them with confidence, job skills, and even insight into workplace protocols – how to call out when you’re sick, what to wear to a job interview – give A Special Blend employees a foundation for the rest of their lives.  

“This is a place that is going to be safe for them. They're going be encouraged, appreciated, and accommodated,” Deedee says. “There’s some safety and that builds confidence.” 

But the accommodations that A Special Blend has put into place for the wellness of their employees doesn’t just benefit their team: it actually creates a beautiful culture at A Special Blend. One accommodation that turned into a culture builder are their affirmation cards. 

After a customer orders, they are handed an affirmation card, that labels them as a “joyful customer,” “super customer,” “loved customer,” or another encouraging word.  

"It would be difficult for many of our employees to write or spell a name on a cup as they do in traditional coffee shops,” Deedee explains. “Instead of calling out ‘caramel macchiato,’ what gets called out is ‘super customer!’ It's such a win. People will say, ‘I'm the super customer today! Can I take this home and prove it to my husband?’”  

Deedee laughs, thinking of the joy that the affirmation cards spark for employees and customers alike, and she notes how the cards which started as an accommodation have really become a picture of why A Special Blend exists.  

“We exist to show the value of all people, so that includes our customers as well. It’s a trademark of ours.”  

A leader at A Special Blend stands with an employee in front of the coffee shop in Greensboro, NC.

“We exist to show the value of all people, so that includes our customers as well. It’s a trademark of ours.”

Deedee Ungetheim, President of A Special Blend Board

Deedee notes how they constantly receive feedback at their Greensboro location that A Special Blend is one of the happiest places in the city, and it’s hard not to leave with a smile on your face. Part of that comes from A Special Blend’s mission – which goes beyond employing and training people with different abilities. 

“People with IDD are tucked behind closed doors,” she continues, noting very few jobs that employee people with IDDs have them interact directly with customers. “There isn't much chance to get to know folks that might look a little bit different than you or speak a little bit different than you. And then everybody loses.”  

“We want our customers to see the value in all people," Deedee concludes, "and to feel valued themselves." 

A Special Blend needs your support to get ready to launch and open their High Point location! There are several ways to support:

Discover our High Points, 

The HPD Team

Photos Courtesy of A Special Blend 

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