The coffee shop that expanded Raleigh’s coffee community is set to open its first brick-and-mortar store.
321 Coffee will open Saturday in downtown Raleigh, unveiling the glistening new cafe at 615 Hillsborough Street. The coffee brand debuted five years ago as little more than a stand at tailgates or a mobile operation brewing pots of coffee in local office buildings.
Started by N.C. State University freshmen Lindsay Wrege and Michael Evans, 321 Coffee aims for an impact beyond a great cup of coffee, offering jobs to people with developmental disabilities.
“This is huge,” said Wrege said about the opening. “When we started out, coming up on five years ago, we were saying, ‘One day, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a storefront, if we were in downtown Raleigh, if we could be (customers’) coffee destination.’ This is a team win at this moment. That dream is now.”
About the 321 name
The name 321 refers to Down Syndrome, which affects some of the brand’s 50 workers, referencing a third copy of the 21st chomosome. Wrege said 321 has helped make downtown Raleigh more inclusive.
“Downtown Raleigh is the heart and soul of Raleigh, there are so many great companies and people here,” Wrege said. “People are meeting for coffee with friends and co-workers and for 321 to be part of your routine, to be a vehicle for making the city more inclusive, that’s a strong statement for Raleigh.
“It’s cool that our staff get to come to Downtown Raleigh in a beautiful new coffee shop in a really happening part of town,” Wrege said. “We aren’t tucked away in an old building somewhere. This is what inclusion looks like.”
321 will maintain its popular location in the State Farmers Market. With thousands of fans, 321 Coffee and that Farmers Market location was voted the top coffee shop in the Triangle in the News & Observer’s Coffee Shop Bracket late last year, prevailing in a market crowded with world class cafes.
With coffee woven through the rituals of daily life, from the first morning cup to the afternoon meet-up, Wrege said 321 has expanded in ways that offered more jobs to workers with developmental disabilities. While starting with a few pots of drip coffee, the brand roasts its own beans and runs its own espresso program.
“We’ve intentionally evolved and pursued more aspects of the business, like roasting coffee and pushing our coffee program,” Wrege said. “We’re thinking how else can our employees work and contribute to this company? We’re also looking at increasing visibility and inclusion for other employers, seeing our staff working and crushing it and maybe becoming more open minded and inclusive in their offices.”
‘Dreams come true’
A grand opening party is planned for Saturday, Aug. 20 with the cafe festooned with balloons and Wrege expecting a crowd. The shop will raffle off a custom pair of 321 Coffee Nike Air Force 1s.
With its first shop ready to open its doors, Wrege said she’s been thinking about what it looks like on the other side of a dream fulfilled. She said she’s only excited about what she sees.
“It’s not every day your dreams com true,” Wrege said. “When they do, it lets you dream again.”
This story was originally published August 16, 2022 8:00 AM.
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