After being denied employment, man with autism opens his own coffee shop

NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’ve traveled down Great Road in North Smithfield recently, you may have noticed a new coffee shop in town.

While Red, White & Brew appears to be a normal coffeehouse on the outside, its owners will tell you that a cup of coffee at the shop is served with a side of perspective.

“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities,” owner of Red, White & Brew Michael Coyne said.

Coyne lives with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder. As an athlete with Special Olympics of Rhode Island, Coyne participated in a program in the hospitality field in the hopes of one day landing a job in a restaurant.

But, he said after several attempts at employment, he grew tired of being told “no.”

“As soon as I turned 21 and applied [for a job], they did not hire me,” Coyne said.

Coyne said he used this constant rejection as motivation to make a living on his own terms. So with the help of his parents, he took the necessary steps to open his own business.

“As parents, we look at our kids and see the value,” Michael’s mother Sheila Coyne said. “We see what they are capable of, instead of the system that’s consistently labeling them and putting barriers.”

Michael took business classes through the Rhode Island Developmental Disability Center, and upon completion, he opened Red, White & Brew.

“What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides,” Sheila said. “We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing.’ And he’s out in the community getting his social skills.”

Situated on the other side of the coffee shop, is a retail shop called “Budding Violet,” where you can purchase products crafted by some of Michael’s peers.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s done amazing things,” Sheila said. “And he’s just a really good human being. You feel that when you come in.”

With a big smile on his face, Michael explained his goal is to run the shop with a theme of inclusion. He said he plans to hire employees with and without special needs.

“We just want to integrate,” he added.

Sheila said she hopes this business model can help open doors for other disabled individuals who may also be struggling to find employment.