Published April 23rd, 2021 at 6:00 AM
Although a volunteer coach is an elbow’s length away if he runs into any difficulty, Patrick, who has Down syndrome, works mostly independently to create Americanos, mochas and cappuccinos on an Italian La Cimbali professional automated espresso machine.
“I’m so psyched to make coffee,” says the 25-year-old barista, who has taught himself how to top his creations with a foam latte heart.
The Golden Scoop is located at 9540 Nall Ave. in the Nall Hills Shopping Center. The nonprofit ice cream and coffee shop, which opened April 14, employs 23 adults between the ages 18 and 50 with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.
Employees are known as “super scoopers.” They work as greeters, cashiers or baristas. They make ice cream or bake granola. They help with marketing, merchandising and social media. And they are paid a base of $8 an hour, plus tips.
The Golden Scoop is run by Lindsay Krumbholz, Amber Schreiber and Michelle Reeves. The women were inspired by two existing concepts for special needs workers: Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a 2017 CNN Hero of the Year based in Wilmington, North Carolina; and Howdy Homemade in Dallas, which was featured on “Today With Hoda & Jenna.”
“Unemployment is 80% for this population, and COVID has only made it worse,” says Reeves, a vice president and director of culinary, creative and marketing for the shop. “Of the 20% that work, a lot of times it is janitorial, or they are bagging your groceries, and while there is nothing wrong with that, to me that is absolutely underserving this population. These individuals are fully capable of doing a lot more than they are usually hired for.”
On the first day of business, lines stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Super scoopers sold 50 gallons of ice cream and earned enough tips to add $58 to each paycheck.
“We ran out and kind of had to decide that that was OK, because we can’t keep up with that kind of demand right now,” Reeves says.
Super scoopers make the ice cream from recipes developed by Reeves. The current lineup of nine flavors includes Vanilla, Coffee, My Father Was A Jam Maker Strawberry, KC Bier Co. Dunkel, Charlie’s Chocolate, Cookies and Cream, Mint Chocolate Chip and Golden Crunch.
Lucy Wagner, a 23-year-old with Down syndrome, feared lactose intolerance would disqualify her from working at The Golden Scoop. But Reeves worked with her to develop a non-dairy flavor. They named it Lucy’s 41, a reference to the number of times needed to perfect the recipe.
Lucy has had other job training through the Shawnee Mission School District, but her mother, Annette Wagner of Roeland Park, says a job is different because she is working alongside her peers with mentors who understand her special needs.
“Sometimes our kids with disabilities have quirks, and sometimes people don’t understand they need time to regroup,” Wagner says.
While working the cash register during an opening rush last week, Lucy began to feel overwhelmed. But she was comfortable asking to step away. She read a few passages in a devotional to compose herself, and resumed her position when she was ready, a pause that might be considered less acceptable in the mainstream world of work.
“I think that the biggest impact is that she feels appreciated, she feels needed and she can go to a job and be herself,” Wagner says.
Jill Webb is a trainer for inclusive hiring practices for Disability: IN Greater Kansas City. She was brought on as a consultant to assess each applicant’s strengths, identify physical or cognitive challenges and help provide the proper job support.
Traditional employers tend to “focus on a disabled person’s flaws instead of their skills,” Webb says. But highly visible and successful employment opportunities for those with special needs help other employers, as well as the community that patronize the shop, focus on ability rather than disability.
The demand for ice cream has been significantly higher than expected, but the super scoopers have handled the rush well.
“I think it has been very inspiring,” says Webb. “The community is excited to see individuals can be involved with all aspects of the business.”
Kristen Ewy of Overland Park considers herself a “foodie.” When she heard about The Golden Scoop through a friend’s post on social media, she rounded up her family for a taste test.
Ewy, who calls herself “persnickety,” gave Charlie’s Chocolate a thumbs up.
Four-year-old Eleanor Ewy wanted to try the “pink” ice cream. Kristin thinks she was imagining a bubble gum-pink scoop, like the drawing on the menu board. Instead, the strawberry flavor with a subtle hint of basil made using a natural jam created by a super scooper’s brother.
“I love it,” Eleanor says.
Husband Billy Ewy tried the KC Bier Co. Dunkel, a flavor Reeves describes as a cross between salted caramel and warm bread with butter. He found it to be “sweet, not bitter.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like it. It’s so cool,” Kristin says of the concept. “I like that it’s a job with dignity.”
Business partnerships and donations have helped defray the construction costs. Food collaborations with other local businesses, like Jude’s Rum Cake, have yielded unique menu items. Volunteers have signed on to help coach.
Now the goal is to create still more jobs for the 16 applicants on a waiting list who are eager to join in as a super scooper.
“We knew the community would embrace us. We’d had a lot of media interest, and I thought we’d get good social media, but it was hard to gauge how much we would grow,” Reeves says.
And while the list of ice cream flavors may continue to grow and change over time, most customers are likely to return for the atmosphere.
“We have a mantra: The ice cream is going to be delicious. The coffee is wonderful. But the reason to come back is for the people,” Reeves says.
(Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.)
Jill Wendholt Silva is a James Beard award-winning food editor and freelance writer. You can follow her at @jillsilvafood.