On a chilly winter afternoon, I drove to Independent Grounds Cafe in Kennesaw, GA. This was a different kind of coffee excursion where I wasn’t interested in tasting great coffee but rather learn more about the coffee shop and its wonderful story. I spent about three hours at Independent Grounds Cafe and spoke with Lorna Heid, as well as four baristas/employees at the shop: Ben, Emma, Alexis, and Kathryn.
The mission of the shop is to empower adults with disabilities by giving them a chance to work at the coffee shop, to interact with the local community, and to inspire the customers who come in through the door to think differently (in a positive light) about adults with special needs.
Coffee with Heart
The mission of Independent Grounds Cafe is to serve great coffee while hiring adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Lorna Heid, the owner of the shop, sought to fulfill this mission because her own daughter, Emma, suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth. Emma is now one of the baristas employed at Independent Grounds Cafe.
In a report issued in June of 2018, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics cited that in 2017, only about 19% of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7 percent. In my conversation with Lorna (the owner of Independent Grounds), she mentioned how people with disabilities want to work and take on responsibility. Independent Grounds fulfills its mission by hiring about a dozen staff with special needs. As Lorna Heid explains:
Our goal is to put a smile on your face and give you an amazing cup of coffee. We want you to feel at home here, to get to know our team and maybe inspire you to think differently about the world of special needs.
Photos from the space are below, but I want to emphasize that my visit was more about getting the message about what Lorna and Independent Grounds Cafe is doing. Of course, it helps that Independent Grounds has such a beautiful space and serves Rev Coffee!
Independent Grounds Cafe is fully contained inside a building which used to be either a dentist’s office or some other local business. The space is massive, complete with a large outdoor deck and, in addition to the main space, there are three separate rooms which are more like “quiet rooms” if you want to get some work done in peace (scroll down for those photos).
The drink menu at Independent Grounds Cafe consists of hot and cold coffee beverages (the cafe is partnered with Smyrna-based coffee roaster Rev Coffee for their beans), frappes, tea, and smoothies. The cafe offers light snacks and desserts; Independent Grounds Cafe is partnered with Remedy Bake Shop to offer gluten free cookies. Finally, Independent Grounds Cafe has a partnership with King of Pops ice cream.
An Inspiration to Others
In my conversation with Lorna, she mentioned how her coffee shop has become a destination for parents with disabled children/young adults all over the Southeast. Here, the parents come with their children and the parents can proudly show to their children that their disability shouldn’t be an excuse to slow down; in fact, places like Independent Grounds Cafe show that it’s possible to have a disability but feel empowered and provide a benefit to society.
A Message to Readers
This blog post is certainly not the first to shed light on Independent Grounds Cafe. Previously, Barista Magazine did a feature on Independent Grounds Cafe. Beth McKibben, writing for Eater Atlanta, spotlighted Independent Grounds Cafe at the top of her article, “Atlanta’s Essential Coffee Shops.”
Nevertheless, I feel like these spotlights have been few and far between, and the purpose of this blog post is to shed some additional light on what Lorna, her staff, and Independent Grounds Cafe stand for and do on a daily basis.
During my conversation with Lorna, she lamented that the hardest thing for her business is still getting foot traffic through the door. Too many people still find it inconvenient to get out of their cars and therefore they choose to stay in their vehicles and go through the local Starbucks drive-thru. The mission of this website and blog is to profile independent coffee shops that deserve your business, and I hope I am able to convey this message about Independent Grounds Cafe. As I recently observed on Instagram, coffee is one of those elements that provides us with an opportunity to slow down. I only wish people would take this message to heart and divert even a few minutes out of their day to stop at Independent Grounds Cafe, enjoy the coffee, interact with the wonderful employees there, and perhaps learn something new or even gain a new perspective about employees with disabilities.
If you found this message inspiring, the best thing you can do is drive up to Kennesaw and spend your hard-earned money by purchasing drinks and other treats at Independent Grounds Cafe. If you live in the surrounding area, then I hope you make an effort to get to Independent Grounds and support this local business. My general rule-of-thumb is that select coffee shops are deserving of the extra drive no matter where you live in the Atlanta area, and Independent Grounds Cafe certainly belongs on this special list.
Of course, the other thing you can do is to share this blog post with your friends and family via email, text, or on social media, letting the awareness grow about Independent Grounds Cafe and its honorable mission. After all, Independent Grounds Cafe is a coffee shop with ❤️.
A special thanks to Ben, Emma, Alexis, and Kathryn for keeping me company during my visit and chatting about all things coffee; and a heartfelt thank you to Lorna for taking the time to speak with me, but more importantly, for executing her mission with Independent Grounds Cafe.