A Coffee Shop With Heart—Independent Grounds Cafe

Independent Grounds Cafe is a coffee shop in Kennesaw, Ga., aimed at providing job opportunities to individuals with disabilities.


Photos courtesy of Independent Grounds Cafe

When Lorna Heid researched items for her new coffee shop, she knew she needed to consider things that often do not concern or cross the mind of other new coffee shop owners. Lorna would be making modifications based on the needs of individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

Independent Grounds Cafe in Kennesaw, Ga., was inspired by Lorna’s eldest daughter, Emma, who has a mental disability from contracting meningitis as an infant. Lorna wanted to create a place for her daughter to work and for other disabled teens and adults. “Raising my daughter in Special Olympics and other programs, I knew that I would have no problem finding employees that would be good,” Lorna reasoned.

Lorna Heid (left) created Independent Grounds Cafe so that her daughter Emma (right) and other teens and adults with disabilities would have a safe and welcoming place to work.

When the time came to purchase the important items for her shop, Lorna had her future employees in mind. “I knew that the espresso machine and the beans were really important,” Lorna explained, “but I also knew that I wanted it to be easy enough that the employees I wanted to hire would be able to make the drink creations.”

A large number of adults in the U.S.A. with intellectual and developmental disabilities—autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, etc.—are unemployed. Lorna says many of the folks she has met want to be employed—they just have had difficulty getting hired. “It’s not that they’re incapable of working,” Lorna says, “it’s that they can’t find work.”

Independent Grounds Cafe has a variety of room designs and sizes within, from a large, bright, open room with multiple tables to a small room with only one desk. There’s also a spot for people to catch up with friends, study, home-school, or even hold interviews.

Through Independent Grounds Cafe, Lorna hopes other employers see the benefits of hiring disabled employees. The people she has hired, Lorna says, “are the best employees!” She says it has been her experience that employees with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum, have been punctual, responsible, and professional. There are 19 employees at Independent Grounds, 13 with a mental or developmental disability. 

The baristas at Independent Grounds Cafe serve easy smiles and happy attitudes along with their locally roasted coffee.

With all the talk of great employees, Independent Grounds hasn’t forgotten the coffee. They serve locally roasted coffee from Rev Coffee Roasters in nearby Smyrna. Lorna has learned a lot from Rev Coffee’s owner, Nick Bimmerle, “He will answer any question I have,” she says. “He wants us to be successful and he wants us to know what we’re doing.” After sampling many flavors, Lorna settled on a South American blend, which is also Rev’s most popular blend.

Lorna adds, “I wanted good coffee along with our good service, so that people would see that, ‘Hey, the coffee is pretty good, and I didn’t realize that there’s this population of people that are great employees.’” Great-tasting coffee paired with great employees has set Lorna up for a successful future.

Amanda Morris is a freelance travel writer based in Atlanta who focuses on culinary travel and seeing the world through art and architecture. You can reach her at amanda@sushiandgelato.com.

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