Wisconsin coffee shop hopes to hire workers with disabilities, shatter stereotypes

Posted at 3:10 PM, Feb 03, 2020

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. -- A building that previously housed Caribou Coffee and Peet's Coffee in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, will soon be home to a new and different kind of coffee shop.

Inspired Coffee will open in mid-April after renovations are complete.

"We'll have all new flooring, new lighting, and we're putting a fireplace in," said Erik Barber, President of Inspiration Ministries.

Inspiration Ministries is a nonprofit providing long-term care to people with special needs. Right now, roughly 70 individuals ages 22-85 live on its campus in Walworth County.

It'll be Inspiration Ministries that runs Inspired Coffee.

The coffee shop's business plan calls for "employing up to 20-30 individuals with mild to moderate developmental and physical disabilities where they will be celebrated, job trained, coached and, over time, placed into a fully integrated work setting."

Officials at Inspiration Ministries said more than 6,300 people living in Walworth County have physical or developmental disabilities. But the organization believes available transition services and worker training for those people is relatively limited.

Barber said, historically, the trend across the country has been to employ people with special needs in back room or behind the scenes roles - like in work shops, dish rooms, or factories.

He said workers at Inspired Coffee will staff every aspect of the store - including highly visible positions, like as cashiers and greeters.

"The whole goal of this coffee shop is to celebrate people with disabilities," Barber said. "We want to put them in the spotlight, and to really change the conversation about the purpose, the value, they should have in our community."

To help with purchasing startup equipment and the first few rent payments, Inspiration Ministries has so far raised about $350,000 of its $400,000 fundraising goal. But Barber said the model for the business going forward will be self-sustaining, and sales revenue should cover operating costs.

Stephanie Klett, President of VISIT Lake Geneva, said the business is primed for success in part because it sits on a prime piece of real estate - just steps from the city's beach.

She said the community has already embraced Inspired Coffee's mission.

"This sends the message that we invite everybody to our community," Klett said. "There's nothing else like this in the state of Wisconsin, that we're aware of."

Jani Gregornik recently completed a screening process to work at Inspired Coffee and is excited to start.

"It's the perfect job for me," said Gregornik, 29, who has down syndrome.

Gregornik enjoys meeting and mingling with others, and has honed her people skills through nine years of volunteering at a nursing home.

"She transports the residents from the hair salon to their rooms," said Jani's mother, Naomi Gregornik. "And she visits with them. That's her favorite part."

Jani also has previous job experience at a workshop in Fort Atkinson.

But she's excited about the additional training she can receive working at Inspired Coffee. Her parents are excited too.

"I think this will be a good opportunity for her, and her friends with disabilities, but also the community to come in and see adults with disabilities right in the community," Naomi Gregornik said.

"I think the people who come in here will be inspired," said Mike Gregornik, Jani's father.

As for what Jani recommends customers order when the business opens this spring: "definitely hot chocolate," she said with a grin.

This story was originally published by Pete Zervakis at WTMJ.