Winston-Salem will get a new coffee shop and more this weekend.
Moji Coffee & More will open Saturday at 690 N. Trade St. as a nonprofit business that offers employment to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It’s “coffee that gives everyone a voice,” as the sign on the window says.
The shop will employ 20 to 23 part-time “mojistas” as well as a few supervisors.
The manager is Natalie Hughes, a 26-year-old mother of two and former dining-room manager of the Katharine Brasserie and Bar who also has experience with group homes and behavioral health. Moji’s executive director is Tim Flavin, a longtime advocate for individuals with special needs.
Moji will offer a full range of espresso and other coffee drinks as well as hot tea, frappes and smoothies. Bottled cold beverages also will be available. Moji will have bagels from Bagel Station and locally made pastries. O’Brien’s Deli will supply cold grab-and-go sandwiches.
The shop also will have a “Moji Moseum” that will sell artwork made by people at the Enrichment Center in Winston-Salem and UMAR in Reidsville.
Flavin is a Special Olympics swim coach who currently chairs the I/DD Advisory Committee at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. He said the idea for the coffee shop grew out of a visit to a similar shop in Wilmington called Bitty & Beau’s Coffee. That shop was founded by Amy Wright, a CNN 2017 Hero of the Year, as a way to help support employment for two of her children with Down syndrome.
Flavin happened to be doing some consulting in Wilmington so he decided to check out Bitty & Beau’s. “I walked in there and met this guy Matt (an employee) who began telling me their five-year business plan. He was just really engaging,” Flavin said. “I left there, thinking, ‘We need to do something like this in Winston-Salem.’”
Flavin said that 70% or more of I/DD individuals are unemployed. And that is the problem that Moji wants to help solve. “We really have two goals, to train people and to employ people,” Flavin said.
Many disabled people want to work but have difficulty finding a job, especially a meaningful job. Many of them are quite capable of holding down a job, provided that the job fits their situation.
Flavin and Hughes put about 35 prospective employees through a five-week training program, teaching them all of the aspects of a being a barista and performing other duties in the shop.
The training served several purposes. “First, we wanted to find out if they liked working here. Some people, for instance, aren’t comfortable with noisy places or hectic places,” Hughes said. “Second, we wanted to see if this was a good fit for them and their particular abilities.”
At the end of the five-week training period, about 20 were chosen to work in the shop. A few others were offered volunteer positions. Everyone who graduated from the program were given a certificate that they could use to help find employment elsewhere as needed.
“The other thing that’s pretty unique is we’re reaching out to our partners in the supply chain and saying, “Would you consider hiring a person with a disability?’” Flavin said.
Hughes said that supervisors will offer “supportive employment,” backed by prior experience with I/DD individuals, a key element that can help disabled individuals succeed in the workplace. “We want to show that anybody can do the work” with the right support, Hughes said.
“All of this is to give people more independence, self-esteem and participation in the community,” said Charles Reitz, the chairman of Moji’s board of directors.
Moji worked out a deal with the Downtown School to lease the space rent-free for two years. It also got a lot of donations of materials and labor to design the shop from such companies as Amanzi Marble, Granite and Tile and Salem Sports, Inc.
On Saturday, Moji will have an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon with Mayor Allen Joines. On Sunday, the shop will open later, at 9 a.m., and will have live music beginning at 2 p.m. Also Sunday afternoon, the Moji 411 Marathon is expected to go down Trade Street. The run, 411 miles from Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington to Moji in Winston-Salem, is a fundraiser with a goal of raising $40,000. People can make donations to the run or to Moji in general at www.moji coffee.org.
Though a nonprofit, Reitz said that Moji wants to succeed just as any other business. “This is not a handout,” he said. “We want people to come here because the coffee is great.”
Hughes said that proceeds from the nonprofit shop will go into expanding the program. “We want to keep growing the program, to give more people meaningful employment,” she said.
Reitz said, “Success for us is when we see our staff being recruited by other companies throughout the community.”