TOWN OF WALWORTH — Inspiration Ministries is brewing up plans for a coffeehouse and bakery in downtown Lake Geneva to teach work skills to young adults with special needs.
Opening a coffeehouse in Lake Geneva, which already has several other coffee shops, sounds like carrying coffee beans to Brazil.
But Erik Barber, president of Inspiration Ministries, said he believes no one in the coffeehouse business has recaptured the market that was lost when Peet’s coffeehouse at 883 W. Main St. closed in 2016.
To staff the new coffee shop in its as-yet-undetermined location, Barber’s organization wants to reach out to people with mild to moderate mental disabilities, particularly those with Down syndrome or those who are autistic.
The support system for special-needs children works well until they graduate high school. State services for people with special needs tend to drop off when they reach age 21.
Barber said he has talked with parents whose adult special-needs children are stuck at home because there is nowhere for them to learn the skills necessary to find employment.
The proposed name for the coffeehouse is Inspired Coffee and the shop’s motto will be “Great Coffee, Greater Purpose.”
Plans call for the coffeehouse to open in spring 2020.
The nonprofit also wants to buy an apartment building that would provide supervised living quarters for those working at the coffee shop.
The apartments would be ready by spring 2021.
The goal is to create a unique coffeehouse feeling, with select brands of coffee and bakery and outstanding customer service, Barber said.
“We want people to have a special experience,” he said.
And the workers there will get the job training they will need to move into other jobs at other retail stores in the area.
Barber said Inspiration Ministries also wants to export the job-training concept to beyond Lake Geneva.
“Our hope and dream is the create something that can be replicated in other places,” he said.
Inspiration Ministries, which helps people with disabilities find housing and employment, was started in Walworth in 1948 by the Rev. Charles and Mary Pedersen.
It was then called The Christian League for the Handicapped.
The nonprofit program has grown into a Christian residential facility at N2270 State Highway 67 that serves 70 people. Inspiration Ministries’ buildings and grounds are located near Walworth, Fontana and Williams Bay.
This program will reach beyond the ministry’s residential program.
Mirak Fell, director of development for Inspiration Ministries, said coffeehouse employees will not necessarily be Inspiration Ministry residents.
“This is a new effort to reach a group we were not reaching,” he said.
Social workers and job coaches will teach necessary workplace skills so some of those in the program can launch into careers with other area businesses.
Inspiration Ministries is also seeking experienced coffeehouse workers.
“The key for us is to find shift leaders and managers who would not be special-needs, but who could work with people with special needs,” Fell said.
An ad hoc committee selected by Inspiration Ministries has been working on the concept for the past 18 months.
Fell said the search has narrowed to three locations in the Lake Geneva business district, one of which was previously a coffee shop.
The project had been percolating through the ministry’s’ board of directors since November 2018.
This year is Inspiration Ministries’ 70th anniversary. For the past year and a half, the ministries’ board of directors have been brainstorming for the future, Barber said.
Barber said he talked with parents, state officials and school officials about the transition for those with Down syndrome or autism from high school to real world.
“People are at home on their parents’ couch, because there are no services,” Barber said.
There is a need to get those with moderate mental disabilities into the workforce, he said.
Barber said the board of directors considered a number of different options, such as an art shop or a popcorn shop.
Fell said that workers with Down syndrome and autism have their needs, but they are also excellent employees.
“They are a reliable work force,” he said. “They show up on time, and they do what they’re told and they work hard.”
Inspiration Ministries is now working with the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to set up the coffeehouse training program.
The Inspiration Ministries board of directors selected an eight-member ad hoc committee to do a market study, find a location and organize the start up of the coffeehouse.
Two members of the ad hoc committee are John Neighbors, founder of Boxed & Burlap in Delavan, and Paul Meckler, who managed Caribou Coffee and Peet’s Coffee, formerly at 883 W. Main St., Lake Geneva.
Caribou came to Lake Geneva in 2011 and in 2014 became Peet’s, which then moved out in 2015. The storefront that once housed the coffee shops is still vacant.
Meckler, who is now operations manager for Oakfire Restaurant, Lake Geneva, said there is still room for another coffeehouse in the city.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that when you get good at something, you become a destination for that,” he said.
Coffee shops do more than just sell coffee, they are also places where people to gather and socialize.
“With Lake Geneva having such a great downtown, if we have more coffee shops, you have a place to gather,” Meckler said. “You become the Mecca of coffee shops.”