COLUMBIA - Love Coffee is not your typical coffee shop. It's a chance for people with disabilities in mid-Missouri to be independent, make friends and grow professionally.

"All together we have 29 people on staff, 19 of those employees are people with either an intellectual or physical disability," said Love Coffee manager, David Wilson. "We're hoping we can create an environment to where they feel welcomed."

Before the cafe opened full time, management held a hiring party to surprise the new employees and celebrate their accomplishment.

"We told them they were going to a coffee shop for training and they got off the bus one by one... we held up signs and had people yelling, screaming, clapping,” Wilson said.

Dozens of people attended the invite-only event to show their support and cheer on the new employees. 

“I felt like I just won a championship for some kind of sport," said Tomas Swenson. "I kept telling other people, 'Am I dreaming? Is this really happening?'"

This is Swenson's second job and he said he's excited for the opportunity to work somewhere that makes an effort to accept people the way they are.

“Just to know that I can do a job with my limits and they’re willing to take me and see what I can do," said Swenson. "I'm feeling very loved and very blessed to know that everyone here is behind our backs."

Love Coffee does more than sell coffee or pastries. It gives people with disabilities the chance to be independent and make their own money. Victoria Oleski spends a lot of time volunteering and giving back, but this is her first job.

"I like to help people a lot," said Oleski. "I just want to make my parents proud."

Holding back tears, her mom Francesca said she couldn't be more proud. She never thought Victoria would have the opportunity to do this kind of job.

"I'm very proud of what she's accomplished," she said. "She's going to meet people, be able to socialize and serve others."

Love Coffee is more than an opportunity for its employees. It's an opportunity for the mid-Missouri community to be more inclusive. 

"To be around other people that also have a disability, I think it makes them excited to see that, 'I'm different but I'm also not that different," Wilson said. "So for the community it tells me that they care, they know people matter and they want to give back."

Love Coffee is located at 15 Business Loop 70 East in Columbia and is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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