A very special place: Chris’s Coffee & Custard | Business premises

If you order a Chris’s Fave, Chris himself springs into action to prepare it for you.

“Oh yeah!” exclaims the 26-year-old when he hears the order, a towering confection of vanilla custard, caramel, chocolate drizzle and buttery crumble, all carefully assembled in a chocolate-dipped cone .

The delicious dessert is part of a carefully thought out menu that Chris Woodrum and his mother Beth have created for their family’s unique cafe.

Chris’s Coffee & Custard, which celebrated its first anniversary in the spring, is a place in Roanoke where friends and family can gather over a comforting drink or a cool treat.

It is also part of a project formed to serve a larger mission.

“It really started when Chris was born,” Beth Woodrum said of the family’s journey. “I knew he brought something special into our lives.”

Chris, who grew up in Roanoke County, has a people heart, an impressive memory, and a knack for quickly becoming friends with everyone he meets. He also has Down syndrome. When he reached high school, that training ground for adulthood, Beth found herself pondering what life after graduation would hold for him and his friends.

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She knew they were capable of so much. But, nationally, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of the rest of the population.

This is where the idea for Chris’s Coffee & Custard was born.

“I just wanted them to have a place where they could work and have a future,” said Beth, who embarked on a four-year journey of research and building support to create the cafe plan.

“We were really excited to show the community their abilities and give them opportunities, to have a place where they can work and earn a salary and do things like other young adults,” she explained. “It comes from a dream and how we can help our special ability community. And the way he grew up was amazing.

Chris’s Coffee & Custard, located at 1824 Ninth St. SE, employs a staff of mostly people with disabilities, along with support staff and volunteers from LovABLE SERVICES Inc., a parallel nonprofit created by the Woodrums to provide vocational training and life skills. .

The cafe supports the nonprofit’s mission by providing a site where LovABLE clients can put their training into action, creating real-world experience and an option for long-term employment, if desired. .

The cafe, whose menu also includes sandwiches and salads, covers a range of skills that teachers and support staff help clients learn, from keeping a tidy workstation to conversing with clients in through the assembly of orders.

The whole environment is designed to be supportive and inclusive. Those who have participated in the project describe it as inspiring both to work with clients and to see community support for the group.

“It kind of gives me faith in humanity again,” said Stacy Stiles, who volunteers with LovABLE SERVICES. “Everyone who comes here is so kind and nice. They are always happy to come in and interact. They understand the mission when they come to Chris, and they understand that everything we try to do here is for the good of society.

Building these bridges with the community is part of Chris’s Coffee & Custard’s goals. Beth Woodrum said she especially hopes other employers will see the success of their clients.

They do the work, learn every part of the job, and wait for customers. “I hope this inspires others to consider whether there are opportunities in their company to employ someone with special abilities,” Beth said.

“We’re hoping to raise that awareness even further and just show people that they can do whatever they want, given the chance,” she said.

When LovABLE SERVICES formed her first group, Beth said it was heartwarming to see how much they grew and developed.

They were ready and eager to take on new challenges. “It was awesome,” she said.

Chris’s Coffee & Custard, which is open six days a week, occupies a newly renovated industrial space near Morningside Park and adjacent to Lab Sports Performance.

Chris Woodrum, co-owner of the cafe with Beth, makes sure to greet everyone who walks through the door – “Welcome to Chris’s!” he exclaims.

Many of their customers have become friends with him and other staff. Erica Weiss, who came in for a latte, said the cafe has become a favorite haunt for her and her family.

The cafe’s mission touches her heart, she says, and catching up with Chris and the others who work there adds some sunshine to her day.

“They all have their own gifts,” she said. “And seeing people help them grow and become independent is something that makes me extremely happy.”

Plus, she says, the coffee drinks are downright delicious.

“We love coffee,” Weiss said, “and everything here is so good.”

For Chris, owning his own shop has been a fun and exciting challenge. People are his favorite part, he said, adding that he likes to see people’s smiles when he brings them a dessert or a drink he has made himself.

“If they like it, then I’m happy too,” he said.

“I knew he brought something special into our lives.”

— Beth Woodrum, Chris’ mother

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