How a Park City coffee shop discriminates and gets applauded for it

‘We’re the lucky ones,” owners say of opportunity to work with people who have different ways to look at the world.

PARK CITY — Katie Holyfield and Taylor Matkins discriminate. They discriminate big time. The list of things that will disqualify you from working in the coffee shop they own called Lucky Ones is as long as your arm. Your last name could be Starbucks, you could make a chai latte with your eyes closed, you could offer to work for free, and you won’t get so much as a first interview if you don’t meet their rigid, exacting hiring qualifications.

And yet, no one’s picketing them. No one’s threatening a lawsuit. No one’s screaming foul play.

Because who’s going to have a problem with a business that hires only the disabled?

That’s it. That’s the deal. To work at Lucky Ones you have to have an intellectual or developmental disability.

Every person on the entire team, some 17 full-time employees at present, is dealing with something outside the mainstream: autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and so forth.

All others need not apply.

If you’re thinking this is rare, you’re right.

Katie and Taylor know only too well that people with disabilities have a hard time finding gainful employment.

Two years ago they were working at the National Abilities Center, the activity-based Park City nonprofit that builds confidence and self-esteem by emphasizing abilities rather than disabilities.

Katie was the NAC camps community coordinator and Taylor was one of her interns. They helped young people and their families learn transition skills as they headed toward adulthood.

But at the same time they worried about what would happen to them once they got there.

“There just isn’t much out there after 21,” says Katie. “They learn these awesome job skills and then can’t find anywhere to put them to use.”

As they talked, Taylor told Katie about a coffee shop named Bitty & Beau’s in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she went to college, that hired only the disabled. The women called to see if the owners might be interested in franchising in Utah, but they declined.

So they decided to figure out how to open their own place.

In their spare hours, Katie and Taylor became regulars at the Small Business Development Center in Salt Lake City, learning the ins and outs about starting a business.

“Our poor adviser, I think he sees people a couple times a year; we were there weekly,” says Katie.

When they finally had the semblance of a business plan and had managed to raise $22,000 on an online crowdfunding site, they went to the Park City City Council to make their pitch to open their store next to the city library on Park Avenue.

“Why should we hire someone who has no experience running a coffee shop?” they were asked point blank.

Katie, who was 27 at the time, looked at Taylor, who was 23.

“Because we’re young and we’re hungry and we have to make it work,” they answered.

They won the bid.

* * *

That was a year and a half ago. Today, Lucky Ones is thriving. It’s become a regular Park City institution, like Davanza’s pizza and Deer Valley turkey chili. The size of the staff has grown from 12 to 17, ranging in age between 16 and 56.

As for turnover, it’s been all but nonexistent, which in a ski town is nothing less than a miracle. Even on powder days, everyone shows up for their shift.

“We have just the opposite problem,” says Katie. “People banging down our door wanting a job.”

The community has been more than welcoming, embracing the unique workforce as enthusiastically as the unique workforce has embraced them back.

Not that there hasn’t been the occasional impatient customer. Like, for instance, during Sundance.

“They couldn’t care less who’s working the counter,” says Katie. “They want their coffee and they want it now!”

But the overall message from Lucky Ones is clear: Give people support and an opportunity to succeed and they will.

The name, by the way, is not a reference to the people working there.

It dates back to when Katie and Taylor were ski instructors at the NAC. When they were riding the lift with their classes people would come up to them and invariably say something along the lines of, “Oh you’re such a saint for what you do.”

“They’d say it right in front of the individual that we were instructing,” says Katie, “They were well-meaning and we’d thank them and move on, but what we didn’t tell them is that we’re the ones who get to have this job that is fun and rewarding and get to be with people who have different ways to look at the world — people who go through challenges that maybe you and I don’t have but have such a good outlook on life that it makes you rethink when you complain or think you’re having a stressful day.

“Taylor and I would laugh. They got it backward. We’re the lucky ones. That’s where the name comes from.”

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