A Human Rights Movement Disguised as a Coffee Shop
Updated: Jun 14
The next generation of new businesses will be competing in a new world – one where consumers are waking up to the fact that where they spend their money can make a big difference.
My wife and I spent this past weekend in Bethlehem, PA to watch our daughter perform in a regional theater production of the musical The Prom. Bethlehem is a town with a rich colonial and industrial history. For much of the twentieth century, it was home to Bethlehem Steel, at one point the second-largest steel company in the country. On Sunday morning before the matinee, we strolled around historic downtown Bethlehem in search of coffee. We ended up at Bitty & Beau’s, discovering not just a great cup of coffee but an extraordinary business.
Bitty & Beau’s was started in 2016 by Amy and Ben Wright, the proud parents of four children – Lillie, Emma Grace, Beau, and Bitty. Lillie was born with autism, and Bitty and Beau were born with Down syndrome. Today, the company has 19 shops, all of which are staffed by teams that include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their tagline is A Human Rights Movement Disguised as a Coffee Shop.
As we entered the store, my wife and I immediately recognized we had entered a special place. There was a spirit of kindness, inclusivity, and grace that was unmistakable. And yes, our lattes were delicious. I ended up buying a trucker hat with RADICALLY INCLUSIVE emblazoned on the front of the cap, a nod to the company’s commitment to changing the way people see people with disabilities. We even put a pin on the location of our hometown on the giant customer map on the wall. While we were waiting for our coffee, we engaged in a lively conversation with the staff about the mission of the company and what it was like to work there. As we were leaving the store, I left two 5-star reviews on Google and TripAdvisor, something I rarely do, so blown away was I by the experience.
As we walked around Bethlehem sipping our coffees, we vowed to make Bitty & Beau’s our go-to place for coffee in any city where they operated. We sent photos of our visit to our family and friends. And I have proudly worn my hat in the few days since our visit. All of this because a company consciously chose to start a business to do good in the world. This is the future of business. It will no longer be sufficient to develop and sell a high-quality product or service. Consumers are beginning to demand that companies take a stand for something positive in the world. And it doesn’t really matter what that stand is. It could be ethical sourcing, carbon neutrality, radical inclusivity, or reducing hunger. Anything that signifies a genuine commitment to positive impact.
Over five million new businesses will be started in the US this year. Many will fail. But hundreds of thousands will succeed. Very few of those will be the next Apple or Tesla. They will be simple businesses, serving coffee, helping people file their tax returns, or taking care of the elderly. Each of them will be competing in a new world – one where consumers are waking up to the fact that where they spend their money can make a big difference. Each of them will have the opportunity and responsibility to use their business to make a positive difference in the world. Purpose will become the source of competitive advantage in the decade ahead. Future entrepreneurs would do well to follow in the footsteps of Amy and Ben Wright and their radically inclusive chain of outstanding coffee shops.
Here's what I’ve found interesting over the past few weeks.
Marc Andreessen’s “Why AI Will Save the World,” is simply the best essay out there right now.
If you’re someone who has experienced the absolute joy of being loved unconditionally by your dog and the incredible sorrow upon their passing, you will be hard pressed to not cry when watching ESPN commentator Scott Van Pelt’s incredible tribute to his late dog Otis.
There’s no better example in my mind of a company using its platform for good than Dove. I’m reposting the company’s latest video campaign, “Cost of Beauty.” It’s indescribably powerful.