Nonprofit Spotlight: Esteamed Coffee

Esteamed Coffee expects to open Dec. 14 in this downtown Cary cottage, which has housed several local businesses over the years.

Nearly 30 years ago, Angie Hudson was an 18-year-old student working toward a degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. By the time she was 21, Hudson was legally blind, due to a genetic form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s Disease.

“It caused me to have a hard time finding my first job and subsequent jobs,” said Hudson. “I couldn’t drive anymore. I encountered discrimination, and I didn’t really know how to navigate that. There weren’t a lot of tools or opportunities for that back then on how to get a job.”

Hudson wanted to change that stigma. So in 2017, she asked her friend Tamara Lapsley to help her open a business that would employ those with disabilities.

Esteamed founders Angie Hudson, left, and Tamara Lapsley want to create meaningful jobs for those with disabilities.

“I knew that it was too big of a dream for me to do alone, and Tamara just immediately said ‘I want to do it with you,’” Hudson said. “She’s been by my side every day for three years doing this.”

Hudson and Lapsley, who both live in Cary, started brainstorming, and deciding what kind of business to open.

In the past, both women had visited Bitty & Beau’s in Wilmington, a coffee shop that employs people with disabilities. The shop has received national media attention, prompting similar stores to open across the country.

Newly hired staff at Esteamed Coffee celebrate with family and friends at an outdoor event in September.

“Coffee shops are just a place where people normally want to come and sit and stay for a while,” Lapsley said. “We felt like it would create a better opportunity for the employees to interact with the customers and build relationships.”

And thus, Esteamed Coffee was created, with the mission to “esteem” the customers and employees, giving them the opportunity to grow their life skills.

After lots of research and getting their official 501(c)(3) status, the two women started fundraising. Hudson and Lapsley hosted small events to spread awareness of the shop and its goals. As the women met more people and established a name for Esteamed Coffee, events got larger, and board members signed on to help carry out the mission.

The nonprofit raised $34,000 in its first big fundraising event in September 2019. Other grants followed from Walmart, Duke Energy and many generous donors. All 76 donor names will appear on a wall in the shop to show thanks to all who helped establish Esteamed Coffee.

In December, board member Kirby Barbour rode 400 miles on his bike, from Winston-Salem to Wilmington, to raise money and awareness for Esteamed Coffee and six similar N.C. nonprofits, including Gabi’s Grounds and 321 Coffee in the Triangle.

“It really brought out the community out in a way that I hadn’t expected,” Barbour said, whose 9-year-old son is on the autism spectrum.

“I thought we’d get some level of visibility, but, to me, that was the big win – being able to raise that visibility, to gain awareness, and hopefully drive more traffic to these shops and help them succeed.”

Earlier this year, Hudson and Lapsley were able to start physically building their dream. They signed the lease on a 1940s cottage on Academy Street, and construction on the coffee shop began in late February. The shop is slated to open December 14.

In September, Esteamed board members and volunteers interviewed 52 applicants. By the end of the month, 18 people received congratulatory offer letters. There will be about four employees working at a time – one manager, two baristas and a cashier.

“There are so many more people with disabilities who want a job and are definitely trainable,” Lapsley said. “I wish we could hire far more people than we are able to currently. We need more businesses to catch the vision.”

For those who interviewed but were not hired, Esteamed Coffee invited them to volunteer, helping employees and growing their interpersonal skills at the shop.

“It puts all of our employees in the center of the focus. They’re not sweeping a floor in a back room. They’re not in a warehouse doing a job that nobody ever sees,” Hudson said. “The coffee shop creates that opportunity for being seen and celebrated.

“They are visible, because they belong there.”

Esteamed Coffee will serve Joe Van Gogh coffee, baked goods from Life Experiences in Cary and gluten-free items from Dolci di Maria in Asheville. Details are at

Virtual Trivia Fundraiser

Esteamed Coffee is planning a virtual trivia night in late January 2021 to raise money for the nonprofit. Look for details on social media or subscribe to the Esteamed email newsletter.

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