Angela Lee’s son wanted to work at Starbucks, so she is providing the next best thing: she’s opening her own coffee shop.
Lee, who’s son, Tristan, was born with Down Syndrome, has been working most of this year on the soon-to-be open Riverside Coffee Shop, 16239 Highway 70, with the goal of offering vocational training to youth and young adults with special needs.
The shop, set to have a soft opening sometime in September, is a former bank building located on property adjacent to and owned by Two Rivers Church, where long-time Farragut residents Angela, her husband, Bill Tristan, and their daughter, Faith, are members.
Lee has long thought about not only Tristan’s future, but also the future of other special needs youth as they age out of school.
Between that and last year’s COVID quarantines, which impacted Tristan several times as a Farragut High School student, Lee knew the time was coming.
“He was just sitting at home all day,” Lee said. “The restrictions last year really affected the special needs students.”
At the time, Lee worked for ABA Interventions, which offers behavior therapy to children with autism, helping them fill skill gaps and learn adaptive behaviors.
“My boss Elizabeth tried to find things for Tristan to do at the clinic, but he really needed too much adult supervision,” she said. “Tristan also told me he didn’t like cleaning. There are area programs available to help train those with special needs, but if it is not janitorial-type work, they need to be higher functioning.”
When Lee asked what Tristan would like to do, he said he would like working for the world-famous coffee shop, she had the idea to open her own and staff it with other special needs individuals. Around that same time, Lee mentioned her idea to her friend, Cara Bubar — wife of the Rev. Tim Bubar, Two Rivers pastor who oversees the church’s Bearden campus — and Cara asked if she had thought about the old bank building the church owned.
The plans have taken off from there, with Lee leasing the building from the church while she, her husband, Tristan and several church volunteers have been renovating the interior. AJ’s Masonry also spent “an entire weekend doing drywall and carpentry for us,” she added.
“I am beyond grateful for the help we have received.”
Initially, coffee will be sold through a drive-through window, but Lee is seeking to offer a full-scale dine-in coffee shop “hopefully by December.”
She scouted around the region before finding the perfect coffee machine that easily makes a variety of drinks simply by pushing a button.
“The operators don’t have to even be able to read,” she said, noting pictures of each drink make the process a simple one.
While the $16,500 price tag is steep, Lee has created a Go Fund Me page to help offset the expense.
“Tristan is going to love serving people,” she said. “He is extremely social.”
Additionally, she will be offering vocational training, ABA Next Steps, to teens and young adults ages 15 to 22 with autism or other developmental differences as a support to the business with plans to eventually host a full day of programs.
“Eventually, my plan will be to have students here, learning, then working, making it a full-day program,” she said.
“I want to hire individuals that everyone else considers unemployable, and I want them to have meaningful employment.”
Lee is hoping to partner with similar service organizations and businesses. Already, she has a partnership with Our Place Art, where Tristan, who graduated from FHS last year, has long been taking classes.
Lee is excited — and a little nervous — about Riverside’s upcoming opening.
“I have never done anything like this before, but it has become clear to me, this is God’s plan,” she said. “At first, I didn’t want to do a coffee shop, but Cara told me about this building and Tristan said that was what he wanted to do.
“I am not a good listener and tend to be hard-headed, but as things began to fall into place, I finally told God, ‘I heard you,” Lee added.
For more information, contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at abanextsteps.com