John: Hey, this is John Samuel, the host of All Access with John Samuel. The show where we share the stories of entrepreneurs, business leaders and advocates who are improving the lives of people of all abilities. Today we have a special guest, Lindsay Wrege who is the founder of 321 Coffee. And not only is she an entrepreneur, she’s also a park scholar at NC State University, my alma mater. Super excited to have Lindsay here today. Hey Lindsay.
Lindsay: Hi John. Thanks so much for including me, I definitely go pack.
John: Yes. Go pack. We’ll have to learn more about, who and what is 321 Coffee.
Lindsay: 321 Coffee, we are a coffee shop that’s really centered around diversity, inclusion and the value that a diverse team can bring to the workforce. And so we are a coffee shop and we focus on employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So we really want a diverse team, we want diverse baristas to come together bringing unique strengths. We wanna create that professional development opportunity and then just showcase all of their unique talents and unique value really at the forefront of the business.
John: So where are you located?
Lindsay: Well, our shop is at the NC State Farmer’s Market, which is also in Raleigh.
John: So why did you end up starting off at the farmer’s market?
Lindsay: When I started this company, I was actually a freshman in college at NC state. So in our very beginning stages, a couple of college freshmen weren’t really ready to go sign a lease in downtown Raleigh, nor did we, were we ready? We didn’t have access to that. And so we really said okay, what are we capable of doing? So in the beginning for us that was sort of this mobile Coffee Shops set up, that we had coffee makers that we bought from Target, we had folding tables that we rented from the student union, our very first event we got Starbucks Coffee and we just went to different events and asked to serve coffee to just get our name out there. I had friends in the area with varying disabilities and asked if they wanted to come, be involved. They said yes. And so we had this really basic proof of concept that we could roll with. And we had more and more support at every event that we did. And so at some point someone was like, hey, you could totally just go serve coffee at the farmer’s market. We were like, great, then we can do that. And so we started just on Saturdays under a tent that we made every morning getting up at 6:00 AM to set up all of our folding tables and all of our coffee makers. But we did it and it worked and people were excited and the baristas really saw so much professional development from having that regularity. We ended up having the opportunity to move inside and build our a space with an espresso machine and a water line and we didn’t have to set everything up at 6:00 AM and it was that our first sort of mini brick and mortar location. So that’s where we’ve been ever since.
John: But what was really driving you towards the working with individuals with intellectual disability?
Lindsay: Really what I was excited about was this course and using business and a business model to prove inclusion and prove that it can work and prove the value that it can create. Me personally, my tie to this community in this course really dates back to when I was in elementary school, I had switched schools, didn’t know anyone and my first friends were three girls in the classroom that all had a different disability. And, at the time that meant nothing to me. We were friends because we all liked to play hide and go seek at recess, very typical third grade friend things.
Lindsay: And that inclusive principle really just came because of our youth and because we hadn’t learned anything different. And so growing up with that experience then that perspective really opened my eyes to the world of what’s possible, and the value that you can gain as an individual from interacting with people who are different than you. And I personally know that those three girls we’ve stayed friends ever since they’re actually all now work at 321 which is a pretty cool full circle thing. But they’ve had such an impact and influence on me and absolutely have shaped me for who I am. And I now wanna share that experience and that perspective with others.
John: As a freshman, you have so much going on and not mention you have a park scholar. So you can explain what the park scholar is first and then having time to do this, it’s just pretty amazing.
Lindsay: Yeah, thank you. First of all. So yes, the park scholarships program is a full-ride merit scholarship program on campus really centered around four pillars of scholarship, leadership, service and character. So I had come to school with this idea of wouldn’t it be fun if, but at the time I actually wanted to go to med school so I was studying things like biomedical engineering. I was spending my summers shadowing in the OR. And one thing that I completely believe in is if you really want to do something there’s time in the day to do it, there’s a million excuses, but if you can get past that you can do so many things if you have the right drive. So that’s where the time came from luckily. And then, over time it just became turned from this fun side project thing into something that I was just getting so excited about working on it. Suddenly the organic chemistry and the statics engineering, that’s what got pushed to the side and didn’t quite have time for unfortunately but I just got so excited about, seeing your work on a day-to-day basis turning into, we just did our first event. And now we just did our second event and oh my gosh we’re opening at the farmer’s market and we just hired employees. And it was just so cool to see that direct outcome of the work that I was doing. And I just got totally, fell in love with entrepreneurship, with that social impact, with using business for a greater purpose, that I switched majors, I’ve switched intended career paths, no longer taking organic chemistry classes, no longer on the med school route, fully into entrepreneurship and finding more ways to grow.
John: How did you come up with the name 321 by the way? what the meaning to that?
Lindsay: So the 321 represents down syndrome which is the third copy of the 21st chromosome. And that was just the beginning vis drop days of freshman year we were sitting round a table and we’re like, okay, we need a name. And someone was like down syndrome 321, how about 321 Coffee? And we’re like, perfect, yes, moving on. And then a couple months later we were like, Oh, we should check is the domain available? Is the trademark taken already? And luckily everything was available and we were able to snap it all up. And that was just total luck.
John: I love it. That’s the best bit, and that’s part of being an entrepreneur, and I love the fact that you said, all right, keep moving, let’s go. Awesome. That is so cool. Right now you’ve got this successful location at the farmer’s market, so what’s next?
Lindsay: If you’d asked me a year ago I would have told you about our grand plans that we were gonna go open our second location finally in that downtown rally spot. But the name of the game of 2020 is pivots and COVID just totally thrown a wreck in plan. So that 100% happened for us back in March especially with the population that we work with. Many of our employees are in that high-risk category. So we really had to get creative with how are we gonna make this work? So our pivot was to, we ended up expanding our shop at the farmers market. We doubled our footprint and we’ve been using the new space to begin roasting our own coffee. So this is a totally new ball game that we’re playing in. None of us knew what, how to roast coffee. Nevertheless could we teach our employees how to roast coffee, so we had to figure that out. But it’s been awesome and we’ve been working with great partners and like the coffee importing world. So we’ve ended up, so we’ve hired new staff, learned how to roast, been training and we’ve been making this new product which is roasted coffee with now the opportunity to sell it in stores, ship it online, that’s coming soon, sell it to other businesses and finding more ways to still create those meaningful work opportunities. But in a way that’s less dependent on people coming into this space with the changing landscape.
John: And you’re able to see that and be able to pivot quickly and really make it work for yourself and help grow the business. That’s super cool. So how can people get in touch with you?
Lindsay: I love hearing from people, love finding new ways to work with others. So the best way to get in touch with me is over email firstname.lastname@example.org. My name is spelled with an a.
John: What about social media?
Lindsay: we’re active on social media @Drink321Coffee.
John: So everybody go get that. I’ve been evangelizing for Lindsay ’cause I really believe you are a rockstar, Lindsay. I love what you’ve been doing, I love everything about your passion and your mission, and I wish all the best for you. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk.
Lindsay: Thank you John. Thanks for including me on this and thank you for the work that you’re doing with just amplifying voices and making accessibility more accessible.