Last year, former minister Brewster McLeod retired from Southland Christian Church after nearly 40 years of service.
McLeod has infectious energy, has never met a stranger and a great determination to serve others. A leisurely retirement was not in the cards for McLeod. McLeod needed a new project, which is currently “unfolding,” he said.
After 18 months of work and planning, that new project has come to fruition.
McLeod’s Coffee House, located on Southland Drive opened on Monday, November 4.
Since announcing the anticipated opening by the end of 2019 on Facebook nine months ago, McLeod has felt the pressure that is common for new business owners.
What is different for this opening is that McLeod’s Coffee House is a non-profit that employs people with special needs almost exclusively. McLeod refers to these employees as “VIP’s that are handi-capable.”
When he feels overwhelmed about the opening, McLeod recalls what his former boss, Wayne B. Smith, told him years ago. Smith, who passed away in 2016, was the former minister and founding pastor of Southland Christian Church.
Smith often reminded McLeod that he had the ability to set big, aspirational goals. These were goals that you wondered how they could be accomplished, and McLeod usually found a way to achieve them.
As a new business owner, McLeod took the advice of McLeod’s Coffee House adviser Brad Redmon and hired a general manager to manage day to day operations and employees. The GM, a communication director and two baristas are the only four employees that do not have special needs. McLeod’s Coffee House will employ 40-60 handi-capable VIP’s.
“I observed local operations for Panera, Starbucks, and Coffee Times to prepare for this opening,” McLeod said. "POS (point of sale) technology was an eye-opener for McLeod regarding restaurant operations. “(VIP) Vlad Stafford teaches us stuff about POS.”
McLeod believes in focusing what on what the VIP’s are capable of contributing. McLeod shared a story about Johnny Creech to illustrate what people with special needs are capable of in the workforce.
“As a high school student with special needs in the 1970’s, Creech was hired by Food Lion in Lexington to work one day per week,” McLeod said. “After several weeks on the job, Food Lion owner Bob Sloan called Creech’s mother to ask if her son could work six days a week, not just one. Sloan’s reasoning was that Creech did his job so well on the days he worked, all of the other employees worked better on those days due to his example.”
“I love the word include, and I hate the word exclude,” McLeod said.
McLeod’s inclusive philosophy was first developed as a youth minister where he included youth members with special needs for all group activities.
After transitioning from his job as youth minister to minister of people with special needs in 2000, McLeod continued to search for activities that were inclusive. Noting that people with special needs often attended high school dances with their brother, sister or friends, McLeod wanted to create a dance that they could call their own.
This idea resulted in the Jesus Prom, an annual dance for people with special needs held at Southland Christian Church. Jesus Prom recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Every year, 1,000 prom-goers and 2,000 volunteers gather to dance and celebrate life.
McLeod’s Coffee House communications director Amy Thornberry said the Jesus Prom has expanded well beyond Lexington. “ (Jesus prom) is now a world-wide phenomenon with thousands of proms worldwide,” Thornberry said.
Megan Russell works for Bluegrass ADD and is a caregiver for McLeod’s Coffee House VIP Jay Turner-Wilson. Turner-Wilson is non-verbal autistic. Russell believes McLeod is uniquely qualified to lead this non-profit endeavor.
“Through 20 years of experience Brewster has learned how to effectively advocate for this group of people. He has a servant’s heart. He wants to help these people,” Russell said.
Russell explained that a new, untested endeavor in Kentucky such as McLeod’s Coffee House can be controversial. As a result, McLeod’s experience and vision is crucial to its ultimate success.
“Brewster is able to talk to anybody…parents, and business people. He has a very engaging personality,” Russell said.
“People with special needs are not always valued in the workforce,” Russell said. As a result, McLeod’s Coffee House in the next step for McLeod’s vision of inclusion for people with special needs.
“My client may not be able to speak, but he can flourish if given the opportunity. Getting a job is the next goal,” Russell said.
McLeod’s Coffee House will be flexible to the individual capabilities of the employees, McLeod said.
“Unfolding is our approach to seeing what tasks our handi-capable VIPs can fulfill. Some will be greeters, some will operate the espresso machine, some will be POS operators, but we will allow them to do whatever they are capable of,” McLeod said.
McLeod’s Coffee House hopes to provide an inviting and inclusive experience for customers.
“Customers can expect a safe and secure and edgy and fun place,” McLeod said. “They can expect a great cup of coffee. They can expect a great visual effect. They can expect a great connection with a group of men and women that are sincere and the best for them. They can expect a soft place or a hard seat that is comfortable with Wi-Fi.”
Feedback from customers so far confirm McLeod’s vision is becoming a reality.
“We love the atmosphere. It’s warm and cozy and inviting and relaxed and open. It’s ecclectic. The coffee and food are wonderful,” said Lea Ann Miller of Lexington.
Matt Niehaus of Lexington, a customer who is “always looking for a place to grab a cup of coffee,” was impressed as well.
“I think it’s (the atmosphere) pretty cool. It’s really warm and welcoming. The coffee is great,” Niehaus said.
McLeod’s Coffee House is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. McLeod’s Coffee House serves coffee, donuts, sandwiches and sells merchandise and furniture. McLeod’s therapeutic hobby of buying antique furniture will supply the majority of the furniture for sale.
McLeod said that advisor Brad Redmon told McLeod that he believes this 501-C non-profit can be self-sustaining. “People can donate by going to McLeodscoffeehouse.org. We are also on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter,” Thornberry said.
After putting down the marker in early 2019 on Facebook, McLeod was apprehensive about successfully opening McLeod’s Coffee House by the end of the year. With the opening behind him, McLeod’s apprehension has been replaced with confidence.
“This is going to happen. We just have to let it unfold,” McLeod said.