321 Coffee: Creating Job Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities in Raleigh


March is National Disability Awareness Month, and the perfect way to celebrate is to support businesses that are creating opportunities for the disabled community. 321 Coffee is a North Carolina based coffee company and was founded in 2016 by Lindsay Wrege and Michael Evans, two students at NC State. Their goal is to create a space where individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can work and thrive. The name “321” comes from the three copies of chromosome 21 associated with Down syndrome. 

The company operates through a unique model of training and employment. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are trained to work as baristas, serving customers and making coffee. 80% of adults with disabilities are unemployed, 321 Coffee’s mission is to change this statistic. Under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can legally pay their disabled employees below minimum wage. 321 Coffee does not adhere to this norm, they pay all of their employees above minimum wage + tips they get during their shift. They currently employ more than 50 adults with disabilities and hope to expand their mission and set a precedent for other businesses to follow.  

321 Coffee has three locations – the newest and closest to Enloe being only a 10 minute drive, located on Hillsborough Street. They also have a location in the Raleigh Farmers Market as well as one in downtown Durham.  In addition to their physical locations, they also offer mobile coffee carts for events and catering. Their menu features classic coffee drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and americanos, as well as specialty drinks like their “Caramel Cinnamon Roll Latte” and their “Matcha Madness Latte.” If you’re not a coffee person, they also offer hot chocolate, flavored iced and hot teas, and kombucha as well as pastries and sandwiches. 

But 321 Coffee is more than just a coffee company. They are a community of people who value inclusion and empowerment. They host events and fundraisers to support local organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. They also partner with other businesses and organizations like Lenovo and EngageNC to promote inclusion and diversity. In 2019, 321 Coffee was named “Business of the Year” by the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. This recognition is a testament to the company’s commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all. Sustainability is also a very important aspect of what makes 321 Coffee so special. Every cup, lid, and straw is fully compostable. The used coffee grounds are also composted every week, as well as other food scraps. Their impact is not only on a social level, but on an environmental level as well. 

321 Coffee is an inspiration to businesses everywhere. They have shown that creating an inclusive workplace not only benefits individuals with disabilities but also enhances the overall experience for customers. By providing training and employment opportunities, 321 Coffee has empowered individuals with disabilities to become confident and skilled members of their community. They have proven that a simple cup of coffee can have a big impact on the world. This Disability Awareness Month, check out this local cafe and see for yourself the impact that 321 Coffee has on our community.