Friends Coffee & Tea: Empowering the Special Needs Community

Newsletter #1

Written by: Claire Luo

Graphics by: Karen Gong, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist

First started in April 2018, Friends Coffee & Tea is no ordinary coffee shop. In addition to offering a wide and unique array of drinks and pastries, it is a community mainly operated by special needs individuals where they can make friends and learn. In collaboration with FCSN, the larger mission of Friends Coffee & Tea is to provide workplace training for special needs individuals, who face high unemployment rates. At this shop, they have opportunities to learn shop management skills, exercise their creativity through baking, crafts, and art, and gain experience in a work environment.

Friends Coffee & Tea strives to bring new pastries and drinks to its customers regularly. Behind every one of the shop’s products is thoughtfulness and care. Manager of Friends Coffee & Tea Roxana Chiu often infuses Asian ingredients into the shop’s foods, taking inspiration from her visits to Taiwan. Pork sung bread, mochi, and green onion pancakes are just some of the latest offerings.

The shop reopened in July 2021, having closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. According to Chiu, when the shop first reopened, it faced challenges of low foot traffic and limited opportunities to train special needs clients. However, now, the shop is bouncing back stronger than ever. 

Post-pandemic, Friends Coffee and Tea has been able to expand its in-person training program, allowing special needs individuals to train more frequently. Helping these individuals who might be uncertain or puzzled about what to do in their future forms the core of Friends Coffee & Tea. Whenever the shop needs something like flyers or art, it always turns towards the special needs population. Special needs individuals have made holiday flyers, cookies, mugs, and more, which serve as integral and beautiful parts of the store. As Chiu puts it, “We let [the public] know what a special needs individual can do.”

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