Sleepy Coffee, Too is Westchester’s newest high-end coffee shop. Located in Sleepy Hollow, it is already getting attention.
“First of all, the coffee is terrific. I love it and I get their own special blend either in the shop or to take home to brew. But it is not just the coffee — it is the atmosphere. The place has a real feel-good vibe to it,” says Sara Sampaio, a shop regular who lives in town.
So, other than the fact that Sleepy Coffee, Too is not another Starbucks, why is it garnering attention? After all, coffee shops aren’t exactly noteworthy, right?
“Our shop is operated and staffed 100 percent by people with disabilities,” says founder and store owner Kim Kaczmarek. “My first career was as a Special Ed teacher at Sleepy Hollow High School. We started a coffee shop within the school that became really popular. When I decided to retire, I just thought a shop would be the logical extension.”
Some of the employees at the new shop — which opened in September — are people who happen to live with physical disabilities, like epilepsy. Others have developmental disabilities or autism. For Kaczmarek, the specific disability is not important.
“I don’t like to think that a disability defines a person. There’s no question they can do the jobs here, especially with a little support from a job coach or some adaptations in the duties,” Kaczmarek says.
Job coaches, who are agency-provided professionals, help Kaczmarek and her business to identify the supports a person might need to learn and succeed at the job. The coaches come at no cost to the employer and can actually stay at the work site assisting the employee. Sometimes they work with the employee every day and sometimes they only check in occasionally, once the individual has learned the duties and feels comfortable. The job coaches can also help train the entire staff on how to be supportive and how to work with fellow employees of all different types of abilities.
“Our staff do all of the work in the shop. The job coaches help them adapt to a new environment and how to approach their tasks,” Kaczmarek notes. “They act as a guide and a mentor while the individual is learning their job. They can also lend emotional support and assist an employee if they get stressed or overwhelmed. It is a win-win for the individual and the business.”
Finding gainful and meaningful employment is a challenge for people with disabilities. There are barriers that exist — and many of these barriers are no more than preconceived notions.
“The national unemployment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 80 percent,” Kaczmarek says. “Many times it is a matter of getting some support for the individual, good training, and some patience. All of this is what any new employee needs to succeed.”
Kaczmarek has kept the shifts to four hours so she can hire as many people as she can and be able to give them all employment experience. The shorter shifts also work well with scheduling and it keeps energy levels high. The shop’s needs are met and the staff is set up in the best way to succeed.
Speaking of succeeding, the term “success” gets thrown around a lot. For people with disabilities, success can have many definitions. Some are centered around job duties, while others are around careers, and still others focus on being gainfully employed. For most, the idea of success goes much deeper.
“I was roadblocked from most jobs because I have epilepsy and have seizures. Places wouldn’t give me a chance until Kim opened up Sleepy Coffee,” Tim Royston says. “I hope other businesses look at what she’s done and start to hire people with disabilities.”
A job where one contributes and is appreciated is about more than just a paycheck. It is the idea of acceptance that is important.
“We’re just like everyone else. We have the same hopes and dreams. We just need a chance. We’re like the average Joe and we want things like a job, a relationship, and a family,” Royston says.
For families, employment often signifies acceptance of their adult child, but also the hope of independence, self-sufficiency, and even their child’s internal sense of pride.
“My son really likes to work. It is what motivates him. He works hard in his program, but when he works at the coffee shop and gets a paycheck, that is a real bonus for him and something he really feels good about,” says Gail Kirk regarding her son Brian, who works at Sleepy Coffee, Too.
Brian Kirk was in the workforce previously, but was a causality of layoffs that occurred during the pandemic. He took great pride in his cleaning job and when COVID shut things down, felt there was something missing in his life. The coffee shop helps fill that gap.
“No one is prouder than my son when he finishes work — and when that comes with a paycheck, he’s just giddy. You know, a job well done is something we all value and it is no different for someone with a disability,” Kirk says.
The shop uses the term “inclusive” throughout its mission statement and that goal really makes Sleepy Coffee, Too a place for all kinds of people. The staff is a living and breathing message to the non-disabled, neuro-typical folks who stop by that we are all in this together and have more in common than not. The goal, of course, is employment and inclusion for the people who work there — but the shop also benefits customers who may bring their own preconceived notions of what people with disabilities are like or how they are limited.
Plus, there’s also the organic roasted coffee, espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, Chai, and tea. The word on the streets of Sleepy Hollow is that the baked goods — from Ms. K’s Famous Banana Bread to the Jump Off The Road Zucchini Bread to Mary Lynn’s A to Z Nut Bread — are by themselves worth the trip.
“I love going there,” Sampaio says. “You feel welcome from the moment you go in.”
That sums up the shop’s commitment to its clientele — and its employees: That everyone belongs and everyone has a place. Between that ethos and the delicious, piping hot coffee, it’s no wonder many customers leave Sleepy Coffee, Too with a sense of warmth.
“I don’t like to think that a disability defines a person. There’s no question they can do the jobs here, especially with a little support from a job coach or some adaptations in the duties.”
— Kim Kaczmaek
Sleepy Coffee, Too