The Rise Coffee Co. and Nye’s Cream Sandwiches business employs people with special needs.
Making ice cream sandwiches at Rise Coffee Co. & Nye’s Cream Sandwiches on State Street is a new job for Kristi Stadler.
Scooping up various flavors and sandwiching them between two cookies isn't always a perfect science -- sometimes the ice cream slides off the spoon -- but she's getting the hang of it.
Still, Stadler, a person with special needs, has been able to do all sorts of things she never could before at work. Her favorite part hasn't anything to do with frozen confections, though. It's more about meeting new coworkers, making friends and trying new things.
“I like doing everything,” she said. “It gives me something to do instead of standing around. I like helping people.”
Rise Coffee Co. & Nye’s Cream Sandwiches, a soon-to-open coffee and ice cream shop, employs people with special needs to make various coffees, scoop ice cream, and serve customers. The enterprise receives help from The Haven social services organization and Easterseals Southwest Florida.
The program is meant to furnish work experience to build on. But to founder and co-owner Beaver Shriver, the shop’s focus on special needs employees should eventually feel like something mundane.
“The hope is after a while that this is a regular coffee and ice cream shop,” Shriver said. “Over the years, the hope is (special needs people) will be included in the workforce and it won’t be ‘Wow, look at this place’, it’ll be ‘Oh, it’s a coffee shop.’”
Shriver, a businessman and philanthropic figure, says he has been involved with the special needs community for much of his life. He’s worked with the Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and other organizations that champion individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“For so long, this population has been marginalized or institutionalized, even,” Shriver said. “Attitudes have changed over the years but there’s still a lack of understanding … to me, that’s just not right. We’re giving these guys an opportunity and a platform to shine and succeed.
His contacts have come in handy for establishing the new coffee shop. Shriver is on the board at Miracle League of Manasota, a baseball nonprofit for people with disabilities who play at Longwood Park in North Sarasota, and has brought several people from that group to work at Rise Coffee Co. & Nye's Cream Sandwiches. Shriver's business partner Chef Christian Nye of Nye's Cream Sandwiches handles the designs for the ice cream sandwiches.
The store's workforce is a blend of people with special needs and team leaders supervising them. While other coffee places emphasize speed with a small number of employees at behind the counter, Rise Coffee Co. & Nye's Cream Sandwiches has several employees all performing tasks.
Mercedes Matthews, 27, is a special needs client with Easterseals and a Rise Coffee Co. & Nye's Cream Sandwiches employee who enjoys her time serving up coffee at the shop.
She’s only spent a handful of days learning the ropes — the plan is to for Matthews to work around three days a week — but has picked up cleaning and putting together drinks for customers.
She hasn’t been nervous, rather she’s been excited to go to work each day. There’s a satisfaction to making ice cream sandwiches and watching her customers chow down.
“I scoop the ice cream … put it on the cookie, and then (customers) eat it,” Mercedes said. “They’re good.”
General Manager Chris Cushman says the the plan is to have 20 to 30 special needs employees working when the business is fully up and running.
Work has been consistent at the shop. Kushman says construction and remodeling has been underway for more than a month.
New tables are coming in, the menu is being finalized, and decorations are almost finished. They went ahead with a soft opening on Dec. 16. Shriver says the plan is to have an official opening at the end of December and a ceremony marking the occasion in January when the staff has more experience under their belts.
There’s still a lot Stadler and other staff to learn, but it's something she looks forward to.
“It’s going to take me a while to understand stuff,” Stadler said. “But I’ll get a hang of it.”