From the Ground Up

Coffee Shop to Enable Special-Needs Individuals

Local nonprofit Love INC is brewing up something new. Their next venture, Love Coffee, is on a mission to combat double digit unemployment rates for people with special needs.

Founder Chuck Crews, a longtime coach for Columbia Special Olympics, was looking for ways to expand his connection to local special-needs families when the idea of a coffee shop was born. Before developing Love Coffee, he visited other shops with similar premises — including Southern chain Bitty and Beau’s, and Ste. Genevieve shop Common Grounds — to garner ideas.

Love Coffee is scheduled to open early this month, and most of its employees will come from word-of-mouth referrals, including other communities such as City of Refuge and local veterans.

The employees of Love Coffee will learn skills related to customer service and food prep, as well as professional etiquette. The goal is that these skills can then be applied to other employment opportunities in the community and beyond. Besides professional development, a key mission of Love Coffee is creating an environment of community engagement.

“One of the things I’d like to do is provide a location for folks with special needs and without special needs to gather and socialize together,” Crews says. “Like game night or karaoke night to help those individuals socialize with the general population. Many of them just know their parents and caregivers.”

Dr. Becky Llorens is the vice president of Love Coffee’s board, and her son Nick will be working in the cafe. Nick, 28, has autism and has worked with Crews through Special Olympics. Nick is excited about the opportunity to work in the cafe, and his mom is particularly excited about the teamwork he will experience.

“He’s going to be able to work with other staff and get that collaborative social interaction,” Llorens says. “These guys don’t get that nearly enough.”

Food Service Manager Micah Baker is the brains behind the menu at Love Coffee. He lives up to his namesake — he has worked as a baker for 18 years. After being approached by Love INC about his work, he got to know the organization’s business model and fell in love with it, agreeing to develop the menu for the Love Coffee venture.

“I really wanted to create some dishes that would satisfy Columbians’ needs,” Baker says. “There aren’t many places to get authentic fresh-made crepes, and the sandwiches are a little bit special with the fresh[ly] made bread. It’s sort of our own twist on things.”

Llorens feels that Love Coffee’s opening will provide a new gathering place for the community, one that brings people from different walks of life together in a positive setting.

“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the community,” Llorens says. “People just want to learn, give back and be supportive. We hope that we get a lot of people coming into the coffee shop, not only for good food and good coffee, but to interact with somebody they may not have otherwise interacted with. These folks just tend to lift the mood of a room.”

Love Coffee’s menu will include, of course, a full coffee bar. Espresso and drip coffee will be served alongside tea, hot chocolate and chai lattes. A pastry case will feature fresh fruit-stuffed scones, biscotti, cookies and cinnamon rolls. For those looking for something a little heavier, a small breakfast and lunch menu will be available.

Breakfast options include berry compote, biscuits and gravy, fresh crepes and parfaits. The cafe also will offer breakfast sandwiches made with savory scones, dubbed “Sconewiches.” Lunch will include a combination of soups, signature salads and sandwiches. All of the bread for the sandwiches will be made from scratch, including croissants and multigrain.

The cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with special events on the weekend evenings. Love Coffee will be closed on Sundays. Visit Love Coffee at 15 Business Loop 70 E., or check out their website at www.columbialovecoffee.org.

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