By Monica Smith | NC State Entrepreneurship
321 Coffee, an alumni-owned coffee shop and roastery built on neurodiversity inclusion, is now preparing to launch a storefront in downtown Raleigh in late spring, 2022. “This has been a goal of ours since the very beginning and it’s amazing to see that it is here,” said Lindsay Wrege and Michael Evans, co-founders of 321 Coffee.
The coffee shop and noshery will open at 615 Hillsborough St., in the Bloc courtyard, near Char-Grill. It will feature a full coffee menu with light food offerings and rotating specials. “Many of our baristas have been with us from day one so this is a great team victory.”
With humble beginnings originating to catering at NC State and community events, co-founders Lindsay Wrege and Michael Evans strategically used NC State resources to test their idea, gain validation and build connections and mentorships that have propelled the company forward.
Not only has 321 Coffee had an impact on the local community, but also on its employees. Emma Wissink, one of 321’s first employees, shared, “I’m excited about the storefront because it stands for inclusion. It will bring together my friends and my community. Everyone will get to see us working and being an active part of Raleigh.” Matthew Schwab, another employee that has been there since day one, added, “with the ability to have a storefront, we can reach out to so many more people and more networks. Our goal is to employ individuals with IDD not only within 321, but also other companies. The storefront gives us a platform to continue reaching more companies.”
Baristas at 321 Coffee do everything from roasting the coffee, taking orders, making the lattes, and providing top-notch customer service. “For many, this is their first job. In addition to learning how to be a great barista, they are learning how to be a great employee. Skills such as working as a team and incorporating feedback are important in the workplace,” Lindsay shared. “Much of this population is unemployed or underemployed, and we hope to provide a work experience centered around the value these individuals add to the workplace.”
Currently, the coffee shop and roastery employs about 30 members of the IDD community at their Farmer’s Market shop. The new storefront location will allow them to operate 7 days a week, which in turn will offer more hours to their current employees and allow them to bring more individuals with IDD on board.
While students at NC State, Lindsay and Michael were both Park Scholars and took advantage of the opportunities NC State Entrepreneurship offers to validate their idea and earn equity-free money for their startup. “NC State Entrepreneurship tries to meet each student wherever they are at in the entrepreneurial process, and support them throughout the entire journey. We have been excited to watch Lindsay and Michael grow 321 Coffee from the early stages when they attended networking events and skills workshops, to a growth phase when they participated in eGames and the Andrews Launch Accelerator, all the way through their recent success as alumni in the 2021 Miller Fellows Cohort,” shared Interim Assistant Vice Provost for NC State Entrepreneurship, Jennifer Capps. “Now, we look forward to supporting them as members of the Alumni Entrepreneurs Network with NC State Entrepreneurship. Lindsay and Michael have impressed us from the beginning and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the years ahead!” Capps added.
Outside of NC State, 321 Coffee has also gained recognition as The News and Observer’s 2021 Coffee Bracket Winner and has been awarded the Oatly BIG Idea Grant. Both Lindsay and Michael were also named Triangle Business Journal’s Inno 5 Under 25.
Below is a Q&A with Lindsay and Michael of 321 Coffee.
How has the NC State community helped you as you continue to grow?
Being a part of the NC State entrepreneurship community put us around other students going after their dreams. It made it feel attainable. If they can do it, so can we. And we had people, like mentors, professors, and peers, willing to help. All of these people helped us believe in ourselves.
The NC State community, especially alumni, have continued to support us as we grow. Alumni-lead businesses are quick to incorporate 321 into their offices. People are reaching out offering their help with insurance, legal, accounting, construction. We are proud to be partnering with a number of NC State alumni companies in these various areas.
Explain how COVID helped you expand your B2B operations?
Prior to March 2020, we were actively looking for a storefront in downtown Raleigh. We were actually pretty close on a deal when COVID hit and shut everything down. Unsure what the future would hold for retail and restaurants, we decided to pivot our business to roasting our own coffee to begin offering our coffee directly to customers via our website. When we started doing this, we had some businesses reach out about supplying their office with coffee. We’ve grown our B2B offerings ever since, providing bulk coffee to offices, co-branding coffee bags with different businesses, and starting this month, opening an in-office coffee shop with Pendo.
What other external partnerships have you developed?
We have partnered with over 50 companies who are looking to champion inclusion.
- Trophy Brewing used our coffee to brew a stout called Top of the Podium.
- Lululemon is using our team for user experience feedback in developing inclusive clothing.
- Lenovo and Cisco, among many others, have created co-branded coffee bags.
- Pendo has an in-office 321 Coffee in their headquarters in downtown Raleigh.
- The Select Group shipped custom 321 gift boxes to their customers across the country.
- Reborn Clothing is upcycling our burlap coffee bags into new products, such as boho tote bags and wristlets.
How can the NC State community continue to support you?
- Show up!
- Show up to our current shop at the Farmers Market. Show up to the grand opening of the downtown shop. Show up by liking and commenting on our social media. Show up by ordering from our online store. It means so much when people show up and show us some love. The demand is what keeps us going!
- Seeking new partner companies
- We are thrilled to be growing 321 by partnering with other companies. If you are buying coffee, choose to buy from 321. We are partnering with companies by supplying coffee to their breakrooms, creating unique people-focused corporate gifts, cobranded coffee, and operating coffee shops on corporate campuses.
- We have partnered with a number of companies such as Pendo, Cisco, Lenovo, and SecondNature.
- We are looking to grow our partners. If you are interested in talking more, visit 321coffee.com/partner and reach out to email@example.com.
Where do you see 321 Coffee in 5 years?
We’d love for 321 Coffee to be a household name in the Triangle area that truly stands for social business and inclusion. I want companies to want to partner with 321 as they look for ways to stand for DEI. Beyond that, I hope that companies hire out of 321 so that our staff can use 321 as a stepping stone to achieve their goals and scale impact.
This article was originally published by NC State Entrepreneurship.