A dream that was years in the making has finally come true. Natalie Griffin and Amy Philpott, co-founders of Gerry’s Café, have finally landed a location. Their new coffee shop — designed to employ adults with disabilities — will be located at 1820 N. Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights.
“This has been the hardest job and greatest responsibility I have ever had,” Philpott said at the announcement last week at Hey Nonny’s, “and literally the most fulfilling!”
The announcement came after years of fundraising, heightening awareness and negotiations with potential landlords over possible sites. Through it all, the two founders say, it was joy that drove them.
Griffin came up with the idea. She was a special education teacher with the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, working in a self-contained classroom at Kirk School in Palatine. Her students included those with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and spina bifida.
She later worked in various school districts, including in Lake Zurich, where she met a student with Down syndrome who inspired her: Garrett Anderson. Griffin met him when he was a toddler in her special education classroom, and at the launch party for the café, in 2018, he was the featured speaker.
Griffin reached out to her friend, Philpott, about her idea for starting a café that would employ exceptional people. Philpott brought unique skills to the table. She is a former manager for FedEx and Trader Joe’s, and transformed Tuscan Market into a wine bar, before going into real estate.
Philpott also came up with the name: Gerry’s Café. Gerry is the name of her aunt, who was born with Down syndrome in 1958 and died shortly before her fourth birthday. Though she lived less than four years, her legacy is assured with the creation of this new café.
Griffin points to a North Carolina coffee shop, Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, that gave her the inspiration for the concept. She discovered the café after seeing a video about it on social media.
“Every time I watched their video, I felt joy,” Griffin says, “from the human to human connection, celebration of life, where all people were welcome.”
Throughout the long process to raise money and find a location, Griffin and Philpott have remained firm in their mission to employ adults with disabilities, especially in light of national statistics that show an 80% unemployment rate among this underserved population.
“Gerry’s Café will make a dent in that statistic and help people with disabilities feel more valued and included in our community,” Griffin says, “and bring more joy to all of our lives!”