Meggy Kay (left) & Griffin Rudd work at the BrewAble Cafe inside the Alpharetta Community Center in Alpharetta. The coffee shop was set up by the city of Alpharetta and community volunteers to solve community issues of un- and under-employment and isolation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Cafe project shows Alpharetta’s ‘big heart’

BrewAble Cafe, one of Alpharetta’s newest coffee shops, tucked inside a city recreation center, is a place where brewistas with intellectual and developmental disabilities grind beans, serve drinks and learn what it’s like to be embraced by community.

The coffee shop is a grassroots, volunteer-driven community project, which was started by an Alpharetta mom who worried what the future held for her autistic son.

Jeanette Dümmer envisioned a place where IDD adults could find meaningful work, receive training for other jobs and integrate into the community.

Once people with IDD get out of high school, they don’t have many opportunities for employment or inclusion, which can lead to loneliness, isolation and even suicide, Dümmer said.

“A lot of them are relegated to the basement of their own home,” she said.

Dümmer found an advocate in long-time Alpharetta volunteer Mary Ulich, and the two women spearheaded a two-year process to bring the nonprofit to life.

BrewAble Cafe opened this summer inside the Alpharetta Community Center, 175 Roswell St., offering coffees and teas, King of Pops, pastries and other treats made at local bakeries. They’re closed on Sundays.

BrewAble has been a community effort from the start.

Hundreds of people have been involved in the planning. Local businesses have supplied in-kind services such as accounting, payroll, graphic design and marketing, and tangible items such as office supplies and couches. Even the beans, purchased from a local roaster, are sold to BrewAble at cost.

Dümmer and Ulich said they are “humbled” at how many people continue to offer help.

“Generally, people are extremely grateful that someone has stepped up to address a community need, and they want to be a part of helping BrewAble succeed,” Ulich said.

BrewAble board chairperson Nicki Rudd said the cafe draws a lot of customers from the special needs community and gives IDD teens and adults a place to hang out.

“This is important because they don’t tend to be out in the community a lot for fear of being rejected,” said Rudd, who has a son on the autism spectrum.

One of the bigger early challenges was finding a location. Alpharetta was reinventing itself with Avalon and a new downtown city center, and BrewAble founders wanted to be in the hub of it all. They didn’t want the coffee shop to be in a strip mall on the outskirts of town.

The Alpharetta Community Center seemed like the perfect place: close to the city’s downtown and on the grounds of bustling Wills Park, with its walking trails, ball fields and dog park. The building has basketball courts, a gymnastics center and a large empty lobby.

Through a partnership with the city, BrewAble operates out of the lobby and will renovate the space into a cozier gathering area for cafe customers, as well as anyone looking for a place to wait out a child’s sports practice.

Ideas for community involvement are endless. Special needs artists will show and sell their art in the cafe. Ulich envisions BrewAble book clubs and walking clubs forming and said there is a need for brewista buddies to shadow workers during their shifts.

Café manager Isabelle Rudd, Nicki’s daughter, does that now. Rudd is not just teaching job specifics to her staff but also preparing them for other career opportunities. The goal is to show businesses that IDD people make good and loyal employees and to help these young workers become a little more savvy so their kindness is not exploited.

She said her “heart is touched” every day as she sees the interaction among the brewistas, customers and community center visitors.

“This is a highly educated, affluent community in Alpharetta, and they have a big heart,” Isabelle Rudd said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.