Dream Big Cafe
Story: Alice Fugate | Photography: Caroline Johnson
As the current social climate encourages increasing awareness and acceptance of difference, one Memphian is doing her part to not only bring awareness, but also opportunity to people with disabilities. Diane Grover is deaf and has a daughter, MaryEllen, with Down syndrome. A few years ago Diane became acutely aware of the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Because she wanted her daughter to have opportunities, she started an online coffee company, Dreamers Merchants Coffee. The business now has its first brick-and-mortar store, Dream Big Cafe, in Cordova. It serves coffee and paninis and is committed to employing people with any kind of disability.
The online venture allows Dreamers across the US to run their own business by selling coffee blends in their communities. The company’s reach also benefits workers beyond national borders; the 1,500 Honduran farmers who grow the Dreamers Blend Coffee all are paid fair-trade pricing.
Grover has advocated for people with special needs for years in a variety of ways. In 2008, she was one of the founders of the International Down Syndrome Coalition (now called The International Down Syndrome Community), which offers a safe community and provides advice and support for parents whose children have Down syndrome.
After she had taken a break from TIDSC in 2014, Grover made a switch to the coffee business. Why coffee? She says, “The coffee [idea] started from a simple conversation with my coffee roaster, in his roastery. He was asking me why I wanted to give away two baskets to the Down Syndrome Association of Memphis. I shared that I was highlighting the low rate of employment of individuals with disabilities. He said I should create my own blend and sell it.” And that’s just what she did.
Grover says it’s “pure joy” to be able to bring her daughter MaryEllen, 14, to work with her at the cafe. MaryEllen is growing and learning more every day, Grover says, helping her mother sort products, refill napkins, clean up and interact with the customers.
Dream Big Cafe had its grand opening on World Down Syndrome Day in March of this year, and Grover says it was an encouraging start. “World Down Syndrome Day was absolutely amazing! We were absolutely shocked by the response. We sold 233 panini sandwiches that day, which was so amazing! The support absolutely warmed our hearts.”
Grover and her husband have also started a program called Side Kick that offers support and advice for businesses who choose to employ individuals with disabilities.