Coffee shop founded by NC State students hires people with disabilities

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A campus organization founded at North Carolina State University has bloomed into a nonprofit coffee shop that’s changing the lives of some special people.

In March, 321 Coffee opened at lot 48 inside the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh back with the help of volunteers like Sam Hening who is now one of the top baristas.

Before opening the shop, the three founders, who are all still students at N.C. State, would have pop up events around campus.

The group quickly became popular.

From the baristas to the customers and down to the founders, 321 Coffee offers a sip in humanity — and the founders say that was the goal.

“We are a coffee shop completely staffed by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and our mission is to incorporate them into the workplace in a meaningful way and just show up all the strengths and talents that they have to offer,” said CEO Lindsay Wrege.

This week they took the coffee shop a step further and made their volunteers paid employees. Hening, who has Down syndrome, was their first paid barista.

“For the past two years everyone that worked here volunteered their time, which was huge for us getting up and started, but literally, today is our first day we just hired 21 paid employees. Everyone is making above minimum-wage which is huge,” said Wrege.

She said there are plans for more — they’re now working to open an actual storefront to expand their reach and give more people opportunities.

“I don’t even drink coffee, but I love coming to the shop. It’s fun being here together, “ she continued 

“They are like another family to me,” said Hening with a smile.

The shop is open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the state farmers market.

Find out more about 321 Coffee and its mission by clicking here.

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