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New Greensboro coffee shop serves up both java and job experience
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New Greensboro coffee shop serves up both java and job experience

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GREENSBORO — New coffee shop 33 and Elm is serving lattes and giving those with sight impairment an opportunity to develop employable skills.

“We really want the coffee shop to service our mission by creating new career opportunities,” said Richard Oliver, director of community outreach for Industries of the Blind, which houses and operates the coffee shop.

The shop offers cold and hot coffee drinks, smoothies, and baked goods such as apple turnovers and muffins. It also offers prepackaged salads and sandwiches.

Latoya McEachean is the shop’s lead barista. She came to Industries of the Blind about six years ago after leaving a job in customer service. She was a sewing machine operator before taking the job as a barista — a job, she said, that allows her to use her skills as a people person.

“It means a lot to me because I get to show who I am … to show my personality,” said McEachean, who has diabetic retinopathy and is considered legally blind, although she has limited sight.

Thanks to oversized labels, she can choose the right milk for a customer’s latte. She and the other baristas are also aided by magnifiers, tactile bump dots on the controls of the espresso machine, along with equipment that speaks, such as a talking scale and talking thermometer. There is even a talking register.

“For our cashier, Cassie, who is totally blind, it speaks to her,” Oliver said. “It reads her the menu options.”

For McEachean, becoming a barista wasn’t easy.

“In the beginning, it was overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve overcome a lot of difficulties and challenges.”

The name of the coffeehouse comes from the year Industries of the Blind was founded in 1933 and its original location on Elm Street. It has long been known for manufacturing brooms and ink pens, but the company also has a Department of Defense contract to make Army combat trousers and jackets. Customers can see the company’s history framed on the walls of the coffee shop whose entrance is on Highland Avenue at the southwest corner of the building on West Gate City Boulevard.

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“We tie in Industries of the Blind with pieces of history of the building,” Oliver said.

Oliver said the shop has become a welcome dine-in option for Industries of the Blind employees.

“We didn’t have food service in our building, and it seemed everybody was using some of the delivery services and high fees that come along with that,” he said.

Cynthia Hundley is one of those employees who is grateful for the new dining option.

“We’ve been wanting something like this to happen,” she said.

Hundley likes the ham and cheese croissant, which she said she gets almost every day on her lunch break.

“They’ve done a wonderful job,” Hundley said.

But the shop is also open to the public. Oliver said more and more people are coming in, including students from nearby UNCG.

“33 and Elm is that forward face to the community for Industries of the Blind. You get to come in, have a cup of coffee, but be able to have a conversation with a barista who may have to do their job a little different,” Oliver said.

McEachean doesn’t see those differences as a barrier.

“Never give up. Never stop working,” she said. “You can do what you set your mind to.”

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