Northeast Arc takes over Coffee Shop Experiment

PEABODY — At the close of the city's grand coffee experiment, the cafe that opened on Main Street in June will be filled by a more permanent kind of cafe — one with an element of social change. 

Northeast Arc signed the yearlong lease at 67 Main St. on Wednesday as part of the organization's latest venture: a coffee shop that trains people with disabilities to work in customer and food services. They hope to open the doors to Breaking Grounds by the end of September. 

"We're really excited for the opportunity to provide real-life experience to the people we support," said Tim Brown, Arc director of day services. "A lot of the people we support have an interest in food service and customer service."

Running a coffee shop is a first for Northeast Arc, a nonprofit that provides services for about 10,000 people with disabilities every year. Arc provides programs like job training, recreation and family support to help people with a wide range of disabilities fully engage in the community. 

The name Breaking Grounds was born of a naming contest, and Susan Ring Brown, the agency's director of development, says it works on a few levels: as a nod to the nature of the coffee business, the revitalization campaign in downtown Peabody, and the groundbreaking job program it creates. 

Tim Brown said a rotating group of four or five paid trainees would work in the shop for a few months, accruing skills and identifying job goals before ARC helps them find jobs elsewhere. 

"This is going to be a real opportunity to showcase the abilities of people with disabilities," said Susan Ring Brown. 

The city used grants and other funding to build out the space at 67 Main St. after it identified a sit-down cafe as a missing piece in Peabody. Funding came from a $13,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $6,800 MassDevelopment Placemaking Grant, and $10,000 in local funds. In-kind contributions, like the plumbing and electric work, totaled $18,500.

Jaho opts out

Jaho Coffee and Teas, a Salem shop, filled the space on an experimental basis for six weeks, but opted not to continue. Shortly after that, the Office of Community Development and Planning put out a request for qualifications from other businesses. 

"We would do it again in a heartbeat, and it yielded the perfect end results," said Karen Sawyer Conard, Community Development director. "We couldn't be more excited for the opportunity that Northeast Arc brings, with their expansive experience and expertise in running successful job-training programs for its clients."

The city received other proposals for the space, but Conard said no other applicant was as "ready to go" as Northeast Arc.

Tim Brown and Susan Ring Brown said they plan to open their doors on Sunday during the International Festival from 12 to 6 p.m. to give people a chance to drop by and see the space. They have big plans for Breaking Grounds, including the continuation of the experiment's open mic nights, and family board games on Sunday afternoons. 

Details still need to be hammered out, but Tim Brown said people can expect to find a laid-back, lounge kind of environment at Breaking Grounds with a variety of food options and full coffee bar.

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This article originally appeared in The Salem News on September 8, 2016
Taylor Rapalyea can be reached at, by calling 978-338-2526, or on Twitter @taylorrapalyea.