One Word After Another – James A. Autry – Jul/Aug 19

Best Little Coffee Shop In Town

Looking for a coffee shop that does not have the best coffee in town?

Of course not. But are you looking for a coffee shop that satisfies you in other ways, that makes you feel good for just being there, plus has a pretty good cup of coffee?

Then between the hours of 8:30 a.m. 

and noon, Monday through Friday, head over to Plymouth Grounds, located in Plymouth Church at 42nd and Ingersoll, to see for yourself what makes the place special. It’s not the shop itself, which is clean, nice and so quiet that you never have to raise your voice to be heard. No, it’s the baristas, all of whom have 

intellectual disabilities and who are there in what could be called a work experience program to learn basic job skills.

The shop is the brainchild of Melinda Collins, a retired teacher who was a work experience coordinator in the public schools. Melinda was aware of an unused space in the church and kept thinking, “What a perfect spot that would be to teach kids.”  She was also intensely aware of how difficult it is for these young people to find employment, so she came up with the idea of using the place as a combination educational facility and coffee shop. 

It took about a year of meetings and planning, but finally, in January 2011, Plymouth Grounds became a reality as a project in cooperation with all metro public high schools and special programs. As for the kids, be assured they are paid during non-school hours.

Melinda is the shop’s program coordinator. Joining her is Sue Hoss. Sue, whom you may have seen on public TV, has a culinary background and is manager of the coffeehouse. Together they make a good team. In addition, the kids are supported and mentored by adult volunteers. 

So is this whole thing about teaching the skills of coffee-making? Of course not. Think about what’s required of staff in any retail business, then add some of what Melinda calls “soft skills” that may especially challenge these young people, simple things we adults take for granted such as calling in if they are going to be absent, making eye contact, smiling, speaking clearly, taking orders, making change and, oh yes, learning to make lattes, cappuccinos and such. Or tea. Or Italian sodas. Let’s also add some not-so-soft skills like wiping tables, stacking dishes and so on.

I think the main thing is learning how to interact comfortably with other people in any setting and how to adapt to any kind of job. 

So is it working for the young people? Since the opening of the shop, 57 have “graduated,” 46 of them now employed in other places. With several still in school, that’s over 90% employment. 

So if you have a business and need a good employee, drop by the shop and get a cup of coffee as well as a sense for yourself of these good workers. You might just hire the best employee you ever had.

I don’t usually make recommendations in this column, but let me say that I often meet friends or clients at Plymouth Grounds, and I’ve never heard a complaint about the coffee or the service.  

But understand this is not charity work. This is simply going for a cup of coffee and contributing to the futures of young people at the same time.

I hope to see you there.

Mississippi native James A. Autry ( of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 14 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. Autry recently published his first novel, “The Cold Warrior: When Flying Was Dangerous and Sex Was Safe.”

  • Show Comments (1)

  • Julie Simon

    My favorite “best kept secret” coffee and meeting place is now — OMG — publicized? I’m not miffed … just leave a cookie or two on the tray!

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