By Shelley Hill Young
Trista Kutcher, the first person hired for Charleston’s Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop, is not afraid to go after what she wants. She is confident, determined and willing to put in the hard work that is often required to make your dreams a reality.
When Trista saw on Facebook last year that Bitty and Beau’s — a Wilmington, N.C.-based coffee shop that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — was opening its second location in Charleston, she knew she had to send in the one-minute video application.
“I think you should hire me because I have good, awesome skills,” Trista, who has Down syndrome, says in the video. “I follow directions, I can read. I am a really good cook. I make great coffee. I like to make people smile, and I love to help people. That means I care about people. Hire me. If you want a good coffee, come to Bitty & Beau’s. Love you guys.”
After she submitted the application, Trista and her mom traveled to Hawaii for a vacation. During the trip, Trista constantly asked if she could check her email on her mom’s phone to see whether she had gotten the job. But it wouldn’t be until she was taking one of her regular dance classes at Peace, Love and Hip-Hop on Johns Island that Trista would get the news she’d been waiting for. In a video now seen by more than 77,000 people, Bitty and Beau’s manager Kyra Masuga sneaks into the dance class to surprise Trista and welcome her to the Bitty and Beau’s team.
“I got very excited,” says Trista. “Very.”
The Bitty and Beau’s position isn’t the first time Trista has fearlessly gone after a goal. There was the time when she came home from school and told her mom she wanted to try out for the JV cheerleading squad. Her mother, ReBecca Kutcher, admits to being concerned. She emailed the coach to give her a heads-up that Trista was planning to try out and asked her not to give her daughter any special consideration. She wanted her to make it – or not – on her own.
Trista was already an experienced gymnast. She had taken gymnastics since she was 2 and won two gold medals in gymnastics in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland when she was 12. (She was featured in skirt! magazine at the time.) And those who have met her know she exudes enthusiasm. That week of cheerleading tryouts, Trista spent hours in the gym practicing her routine.
On the Friday of tryouts, her mom asked Trista how it went. “She said, ‘Great. I did great,’” ReBecca recalls. Trista told her mom that she had to go back to the school at 8 that night to find out whether she had made the team. When she got home, she watched the clock intently. ReBecca says she and her husband moved the clocks back an hour, so they would arrive at 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., when she hoped fewer people would be at the school.
But when they drove up to the school, one of the varsity cheerleaders was waiting in the parking lot and took Trista over to the poster where the girls’ names were listed. She had made it! The girls hugged and jumped up and down.
“It’s a beautiful memory,” ReBecca says, as Trista nods and smiles proudly next to her. Trista was a cheerleader for the Wando football team and basketball team for her freshman and sophomore years.
“We were not token,” says ReBecca. “We were legit. Not we, you. You were legit,” she says to her daughter, who is now 28.
Almost 15 years later, that same determination helped land Trista the job as a cashier and a team leader at Bitty and Beau’s. As one of the first employees hired, she was invited to Wilmington by owner Amy Wright, who won a 2017 CNN Hero of the Year award for founding the concept and championing the hiring of people with disabilities. Trista got to meet Bitty and Beau, two of Wright’s four children. “Bitty and Beau are so cute,” she says.
Trista, who is wearing coffee mug earrings on the day of our interview, says opening day for the Charleston store was “awesome.”
“A lot of people were out there waiting to come in. I was so excited to be busy,” she says.
The opportunity seems to be a perfect fit for Trista, who often wakes up early to cook her mom breakfast of eggs and coffee. And there’s dancing. The coffee shop is known for throwing impromptu dance parties. At Bitty and Beau’s, Trista helps make sure all the swag is tidy and hands out playing cards, which are used to track each customer’s order.
“My favorite thing to do is make everyone happy,” Trista says. “I smile a lot. When people pass by, I say, ‘hello’ and wave.”
Kyra, Bitty and Beau’s manager, notes that lots of people have come into the shop hoping to see Trista. “A lot of people have followed her journey and are excited to meet her in person.”
Trista looks up to Kyra. “She is fabulous. She knows what she is doing. I would like to be like her,” Trista says.
Bitty and Beau’s is not Trista’s only job. When she’s not working at the coffee shop on Church Street, she works as a teacher’s assistant at the Christ Church B.L.A.S.T. preschool program, where she says she likes to make the kids happy. “I like to be a fun girl, to hang out and play with them,” Trista says.
Trista says having Down syndrome sometimes makes it more difficult for her to understand what people are saying, but it also gives her opportunity — the opportunity to meet new people, to ask questions and to learn new things. Most importantly, perhaps, she says she has learned, “I can do the best that I can.”
And her best? Well, it’s pretty legit.