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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

This Coffee Shop Proves That Differently Abled People Can Be Well Qualified

After about eight cups of coffee, chatting about the idea of creating a company where they could employ people with disabilities, the pair suddenly hit upon the obvious. They started a coffee shop.

Aspire Chicago works with about 1,000 differently-abled people. To prove how capable they are of succeeding on the job, they created a coffee shop to employ a few. The project seeks to prove that those with disabilities can be well qualified for the job.

Interview with Jim Kales, the CEO of Aspire CoffeeWorks.

The following is the pre-interview with Jim Kales. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?

Currently, two-thirds of people with developmental disabilities are unemployed. When you combine that with the insufficient funding the state of Illinois provides for employment services for people with developmental disabilities (Illinois’ spending is among the lowest in the nation), the problem is further complicated. Worse yet is that only a small portion of people with developmental disabilities who are employed are actually working in integrated and inclusive workplaces, as opposed to workshops or other types of segregated workplaces.  

Aspire CoffeeWorks provides employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities, currently employing five team members with disabilities. Additionally, through our partnerships with companies like Canteen Vending, our distribution partner, this number is expanded to eight team members with disabilities – and counting. In both of these situations, adults with disabilities work in fully integrated environments, side by side with people without disabilities. Lastly, Aspire CoffeeWorks provides crucial additional funding for nonprofit Aspire’s programming to lift up over 1,000 kids and adults with disabilities at Aspire. It’s our hope that through initiatives like Aspire CoffeeWorks, we can break barriers for adults with disabilities in the workforce and show companies the benefits that come along with a diverse workforce.

More about Aspire CoffeeWorks:

Twitter: @CoffeeContessa




Aspire CoffeeWorks is a social enterprise coffee company based in Chicago that employs adults with developmental disabilities. Additionally, 100% of the net proceeds benefit nonprofit Aspire, which provides services to support 1,000 kids and adults with disabilities, and their families, each year.

For-profit/Nonprofit: For-profit

Revenue model: The majority of Aspire CoffeeWorks’ revenue comes from office coffee sales, and we currently sell to almost 100 companies in Chicago, with an additional handful on the east and west coasts. We also sell direct to consumer through our website, and one blend of our coffee is sold in Chicagoland Whole Foods stores under our roasting partner’s label (Metropolis Coffee Company). We also receive grant funding periodically. For example, we received funding that enabled us to launch “frac packs”, which has given us access to a brand new level of client, as this is how larger companies often receive coffee for the office.

Scale: Our goal for the next fiscal year is to grow revenues to $100,000 so we can help fund more programs and services for kids and adults with disabilities at Aspire. While revenue is a large indicator of our success, so is the number of office coffee clients and the number of employees at those companies who learn about our mission of inclusion. For example, hundreds of people at Motorola Mobility, Beam Suntory and Relativity in Chicago are drinking our coffee every day and learning about the importance of inclusion for people with disabilities as a result. Another goal is to increase office coffee clients from 100 to 150 over the next year in order to generate more revenue and awareness. Lastly, we also hope to grow our team of adults with disabilities from five team members, with three employed at partner companies, to 10 total.

Jim Kales
Photo Credit: Aspire Chicago

Jim Kales’s bio:

Twitter: @AspirePrez

As CEO, Jim works with 200 dynamic team members and Aspire’s Board of Directors to craft strategies that guide Aspire’s four ground-breaking enterprises – Aspire Kids, Aspire Careers, Aspire Living and Aspire CoffeeWorks. Jim has dedicated most of his career to nonprofit (or “for purpose”) work, including serving as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lake County, and as the director of communications for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. Jim graduated summa cum laude with honors from Bucknell University, and received his Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!

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