BY KRISTINA ROSEN
In a city with no shortage of local coffee shops, how does one shop differentiate itself from others? For McLeod’s Coffee House, it’s about the people who serve the coffee more than the coffee that they serve.
About five years ago, Brewster McLeod, a retired pastor at Southland Christian Church, asked his Sunday school class if he opened a coffee shop if they would come and work with him. It was a unanimous yes across the board.
One of those in attendance was Megan Gaines, who will work behind the cash register. At 29 years old, this will be her first job.
“I can do anything you can do.” says Gaines. “I could climb a ladder if I wanted to, but I may just have to do it differently.”
For Gaines, who was born with Spina Bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down, it has always been challenging to find a job. She says people, especially employers, see her in a wheelchair and think she can’t do “normal” things. But she drives her own car, has a college degree, and is as capable of climbing a ladder as you or me.
Gaines is one of the 50 employees, better known as VIPs, who will work in the coffee shop. But the goal isn’t to have them work there forever. While VIPs will work primarily in the coffee shop, they will have the flexibility to do outsourced work for neighboring businesses who want or need the extra help. McLeod’s hope is that other employers see the VIPs working and see it as an opportunity to borrow them even if it is only for a couple hours once a week.
McLeod’s is only the beginning for the VIPs. It’s not intended to be their end goal, unless they want it to be. For Gaines, McLeod’s Coffee House is and has always been her ultimate goal as she’s been involved with the vision of it since the get-go.
The reason McLeod calls his employees VIPs, simply put, is he believes they are very important people. They are so much so his “superheroes” that their uniforms are Superman t-shirts with white button ups.
With typical job titles like cashier and dishwasher to atypical roles like creative team member and artist creator, the coffee house has created job opportunities that highlight the specific skills and strengths of their diverse VIPs.
“The VIPs are all talented in their own ways. Their roles will show off their abilities in the way they can do it,” says Amy Thornberry, the communications director of McLeod’s. “It gives them a job and an opportunity to do something they can thrive in.”
The experience inside McLeod’s is what will set this coffee shop apart; it’s 100% about the customer’s experience.
“If the disabled community makes you uncomfortable, just come in and hang out with them for a little while. Kneel down if they’re in a wheelchair, ask them over and over again if you can’t understand,” says Gaines. “They’ll be more than happy to repeat themselves because it’s never an inconvenience for them. They just want to be heard, they want you to listen.”
For McLeod, the desire to open a concept that employs members of the disabled and special needs community was always rooted in coffee. It brings people together and allows for a cozy, quiet atmosphere.
The vibe of the shop is inclusive, safe, and welcoming. There’s not a crazy intense coffee menu, but there will be a variety of drink options from decaf coffee and hot chocolate from Coffee Times along with donuts from Donut Days.
“We want to give you a good cup of coffee, but we want you to come in and feel like this is a safe and inclusive place with good people who want to serve you and talk to you,” says Thornberry. “And we want to have killer Wi-Fi.”
McLeod’s Coffee House is located at 376 Southland Drive.
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