An autistic man opened a coffee shop with his family during the pandemic. Now, they are helping young people with disabilities enter the workforce.

Jacob McFarland loves making and bringing his parents coffee – which has earned him the household nickname “Barista Jake”, which has spread throughout the rest of Norristown, Pennsylvania. Now the 21-year-old with autism owns his own coffee shop.

Making coffee for his father is a passion. “It makes me feel very, very happy,” Jacob told CBS News. “It really is. I’m telling you the truth. It’s just that.”

“He’s telling you the truth!” His mother Angela said. “Jacob is his father’s biggest fan, and my husband loves coffee. So whatever my husband loves, Jacob loves. I didn’t know, though, that Jacob was immersing himself in all sorts of research on the right beans to use, coffee blends, the best water, temperature Water, technique everything. I didn’t know any of that.”

His parents own a record store in town, and they had to shut it down temporarily when the pandemic broke out because it wasn’t an essential business. Jacob, who was 19 at the time and graduated from high school, was still on continuing education courses, but those also stopped.

“He craves routine and doesn’t have a routine anymore because of the pandemic,” Angela said. “So, we decided to do a curbside coffee cart outside our store.”

The coffee cart was a way to keep customers checking out – even though they couldn’t shop for records inside the store. His mother said it was a double benefit, because Jacob had to live his dream of being “Barista Jake”.

“What turned into an overwhelming appreciation from the community for Jacob,” she added.

The wagon eventually moved inside the record store, and The Coffee Closet expanded with Barista Jake. “I got hot coffee, watched a video, learned how to make iced coffee. Then we got our license to start serving food. So, we make breakfasts,” Jacob said.

The coffee business was not only successful, but it helped change Jacob’s life. “It’s been just a hiccup ever since,” Angela said. “The person who’s Jacob now – the fact that you asked a question and joined him directly in answering, that wouldn’t have happened two years ago.”

The café has expanded even further, by hiring other young people with disabilities – and helping them in future employment endeavours.

“We just want this to be a safe place for these people to come in and feel served and valued and learn some professional skills,” she said. “I also help them design and prepare a CV, and we conduct mock interviews… We will eventually have a small storage facility where they can dress up for the interview, so they can prepare to go out and do the interviews and give their best.”

The café also maintains regular fundraisers for local charities and has raised about $27,000 in total for scholarship funds, organizations that help the homeless, organizations of people with autism, and more.

Having a business also helped Jacob socialize. His mother said, “While he had people he was at school with, he never slept, never went on vacation with a friend, and never took a friend on vacation. He never had some of these experiences.” ‘And now, when I hear him having very casual, casual conversations with his co-workers, and they’re gleeful, and, ‘Hey, good to see you, my friend,’ I can’t tell you what it does to me. Because I never thought he’d get that. And it really is. making his way.”

For McFarlands, Coffee Closet isn’t just a family business, it’s a welcoming place for everyone – and a legacy for Jacob. “I think he feels like he has a purpose. He’s really excited to come to work, he’ll see some people, he knows their car and he’ll start making their coffee before they walk in the door,” Angela said.

“He’s found the social side of himself. And if all of that disappeared tomorrow, Jacob’s progress in two and a half years was worth it all.”

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