For the Trump coffee chain touted as a model payroll bailout, anxious days after federal funds dried up
In the East Room, clad in his coffee apron, clerk Michael Heup told the president, “At Bitty and Beau’s, we like to use the phrase called ‘Not Broken.’ It means that I and all of my amazing colleagues are not broken and we have a lot to offer. I know the great country of the United States is not broken either.
Eight weeks of federal loans allowed Bitty & Beau’s to keep Heup and his fellow employees even though the stores themselves were closed. But now federal support has ceased. And like many companies that benefited from the $ 669 billion federal program to bridge the gap as the nation retreated, Bitty and Beau’s Coffee were forced to fold after a cautious reopening.
“At this point, financially, it doesn’t make sense to have everyone on top of their game when we don’t have the customers in the store yet,” said Amy Wright, who co-founded Bitty and Beau’s with her husband Ben. after two of their four children were diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“There was a part of me that hoped we would prove everyone wrong, and this would be the only place people would come back to,” Wright told ABC News. “But the reality is, it’s still a scary time.”
The country’s top financial experts have made it clear that it is too early to know when and how the country will rebound financially. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in late April he was hopeful that government loans and grants would help.
“This direct support can make a crucial difference not only in helping families and businesses in times of need, but also in limiting the lasting damage to our economy,” said Powell.
But as the pandemic has continued, moving across the country into hot spots, economic uncertainty remains.
Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, told ABC News the federal bailout was aimed at allowing businesses to make payroll when they had no income – and it has been achieved, at least so far .
“I think for a lot of companies… it was a lifeline,” Porter said. “One of the challenges we face is that we didn’t know and we still don’t know how long this pandemic will last. “
More federal help could come. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Tuesday that discussions about possible additional funding for small businesses were underway. But for now, Bitty and Beau’s, like so many other companies, is preparing to weather the storm on its own.
Bitty and Beau’s, which opened its first store in 2016 and now has five branches in the South and Mid Atlantic, emerged as a support requester early on.
The coffee chain employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and advocates for greater societal inclusion of people with such disabilities. During the long coronavirus shutdown, Wright made the quick decision to close the doors.
“When we first heard about the pandemic, of course our minds and hearts went straight to our employees and worried about their health,” she said. “A lot of them have pre-existing conditions. So we were very careful and delicate to deal with this. “
At the same time, Wright said many of the 120 employees are in their first jobs and have just started to feel the joy of winning a paycheck. The task of sharing the news that for their safety they would have to shut down was overwhelming.
“The uncertainty of what was to come was, I mean, a lot of emotions arose,” Wright said.
As the payroll support program took shape, the company’s local bank began to guide them through the process. In order to respect the rules, Bitty and Beau’s had to maintain their payroll, even though the cafes were closed.
Putting their energy into their online business, selling ground coffee, t-shirts, and other merchandise, Wright assigned staff to work from home by writing handwritten thank you notes for each order shipped.
The loan would last eight weeks. The hope, she said, was that the nation would reopen before federal support ran out.
“When it all gets dark at first and you struggle to find any hope for the survival of your business and you see that light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “even if it’s only for two months it was a risk worth taking for us.
Last month, as the end of this period approached and the spread of the virus appeared to be diminishing, Bitty and Beau’s slowly began to reopen their stores. They’ve opened the flagship store in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the store in Annapolis, Md., Where Heup walks the counter to greet guests, brew coffees, and change money at the checkout.
Even when all five stores opened, the constant flow of customers that once enlivened the stores did not keep pace.
“It has been extremely slow,” Wright said in early June. It was particularly hard on the employees. While some, like Heup, are back behind the cafe counter, others have been asked to remain seated.
“We just said, please wait,” Wright said. “We’ll get you back as soon as the businesses support it.” And it is hard. I mean, they’re all excited and ready to get back to work.
Like so many businesses now eagerly awaiting the nation’s full reopening, Wright remains optimistic about the potential for his coffee business to one day roar back. She and her husband, she said, “are here for the long haul.”
“And we’ll make it work,” Wright said. “We will support each other personally to get things done. Because it means a lot to us.
ABC News reporters Ben Siegel and Kate Holland contributed to this report.