Being the change: Local mother starts cafe to employ adults with disabilities

Katie Kishore’s Kindness Cafe + Play will employ adults with cognitive disabilities. PC: John Robinson Katie Kishore’s Kindness Cafe + Play will employ adults with cognitive disabilities. PC: John Robinson

2014 was a life-changing year for Katie Kishore. That April, she and her husband Kris welcomed their second daughter, Kiran, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. And just two weeks later, Kris passed away from cancer.

For the next few years, Kishore, a former teacher at Jackson-Via Elementary, focused on caring for Kiran and her oldest daughter, Mira, as well as grieving the loss of her husband. But in 2017, her life took yet another shift when a friend sent her a 90 second video about Bitty & Beau’s, a coffee shop employing people with cognitive disabilities in Wilmington, North Carolina.

After taking a road trip with her daughters and visiting the shop herself, Kishore became “really motivated” to bring the idea to Charlottesville. She too wanted to provide meaningful employment for adults with cognitive disabilities—the majority of whom are unemployed or underemployed, according to the Arc of the Piedmont. 

She created an online fundraiser for her coffee shop, naming it Kindness Cafe + Play—a nod to Kris, who was known for his kindness to everyone. The fundraiser surpassed its goal in just three days, and Kishore soon connected with Jessica Maslaney, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA. Maslaney believed the cafe would be a wonderful opportunity for the community, and invited Kishore to start the cafe right in the YMCA lobby.

Kishore received even more community support from Innisfree Village, a voluntary community for adults with intellectual disabilities, and Grit Coffee, which pledged to train employees and provide coffee for the cafe. The Arc of the Piedmont, which also serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, volunteered to be the cafe’s fiscal sponsor. 

“Charlottesville is just full of community-oriented people,” she says. “It became really clear to me pretty early on that Charlottesville would support [the cafe and] benefit from it.” 

Kindness will employ both disabled and typically abled adults, says Kishore. It has already hired eight adults with cognitive disabilities, who will be trained, mentored, and paired with the role they are best suited for. Kishore and another typically abled adult will also be on staff. 

The cafe will start off with limited hours as well: Tuesday to Friday, 7:30 to 11:30 am. However, Kishore plans to eventually expand the cafe’s hours and staff. 

The cafe will sell coffee, espresso, kombucha, and food options, including baked goods from BreadWorks (which also employs adults with disabilities). It will feature spaces for reading, conversation, and small group gatherings.

“Our mission…[is] to create a space for people with and without disabilities to interact as peers,” says Kishore. “The hope is that we change the lives of our employees and their families by providing this opportunity…[and] of many of our customers, as they have the opportunity to interact with adults with cognitive disabilities in a new way.”

A UVA alum who played varsity soccer and basketball (and was inducted into the Virginia-DC Soccer Hall of Fame last year), Kishore says she has received a lot of support from former teammates and coaches—and people who weren’t even at UVA when she was. 

“We’ve just been so pleased with the people who’ve been attracted to this. That goes for the people we’ve hired, the volunteers that’ve been supporting us, the businesses…and individuals” she says. “It’s been really inspiring.”

Kindness Cafe + Play is expected to open in February.

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