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Cobb coffee shop happily puts people with special needs to work

Independent Grounds Coffee in Kennesaw serves much more than beans and hot water.

For owner Lorna Heid, it’s a way to teach her daughter Emma — who is 17 years old but has the cognitive level of someone a decade younger, Heid said.

Emma started getting seizures soon after she was born, and had to be rushed to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital for treatment.


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This is Emma Heid, who inspired her mother Lorna Heid to create Independent Grounds Coffee in Kennesaw. (Provided by Independent Grounds Coffee)

Emma was diagnosed with meningitis. It made her brain swell, which caused a traumatic brain injury. 

Since she was three weeks old Emma has been in speech, physical and occupational therapy classes.

“We were doing everything we could to get her situated to make sure she could be the best person she could be,” Heid said.

It appears the newest iteration of that is the coffee shop, which was inspired by her daughter.

Heid said she had seen viral videos on Facebook of business owners hiring workers with special needs.


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That spark grew once she realized that her daughter was already serving coffee at Kennesaw Mountain High School. Heid said students with special needs take orders at the start of each day, deliver coffee to classrooms and take payment.

And the idea for Independent Grounds was born.

The coffee shop, located at 3900 Legacy Park Blvd., opened Feb. 28.

Heid said it currently has 14 employees with special needs ranging in age from teens to those who are 40.

“They can be themselves and do a job and be rewarded for it,” she said.


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Andre is an employee at Independent Grounds Coffee. He graduated from North Cobb High School and currently attends the Cobb County Transitional Academy. He has hopes of attending Kennesaw State University. (Provided by Independent Grounds Coffee)

Some of the workers are on the autism spectrum, others have cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

“I wanted it to be a legit business that the employees just happen to be something different,” Heid said.

The beans come from Rev Coffee in Smyrna, and sweets come from a Kennesaw baker who sells under  Sweet T’s Treats.

As for the the shop’s name, Heid said: “Independence is really for the employees, that they can gain a sense of community but also independence ... they’re standing their ground and being seen.”

The shop is about 2,000 square feet and modeled after a Victorian home, crown molding and all.


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She said she has to weary of how many hours some folks work in order to make sure they get to keep their government benefits.

This is the first business 48-year-old Heid has ever owned.

“You head toward 50 and you decide to take all sorts of leaps,” she said.

She was working as a paralegal spending three hours in the car every day commuting from Cobb County to Buckhead. Her commute is now eight minutes, and Emma comes on the weekends.

“I get to do something that brings me great joy that helps out not only her, but other people like her.”

The ribbon-cutting will be April 10 from 10:30 a.m. to noon.


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