“Establishing a community:” a coffee shop with a cause

Colleen Hammond | editor-in-chief

Oct. 14, 2021

For the families and employees of Br. Andre’s Cafe, it’s more than just a cup of coffee – it’s coffee with a cause. 

Located in the lower level of Epiphany Church on Washington Place, Br. Andre’s Cafe is the newest — and nearest – coffee shop in the Downtown area. While their menu features scores of delicious cookies and scones, the staff is best known for serving up smiles and genuine kindness. 

“They make you feel like a rockstar every time you come in here,” said cafe founder Mike Fitzgerald. 

Unlike any other coffee shop in the Pittsburgh area, Br. Andre’s is staffed almost entirely by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This groundbreaking cafe is the passion project of Fitzgerald and his wife Terri, in devotion to their youngest son, Patrick. 

As a child, Patrick was diagnosed with autism, and the family learned to adapt to Patrick’s abilities day by day. As he got older, the Fitzgeralds noticed Patrick’s growing love for food and baking. They enrolled him in a food services program at the Community College of Allegheny County. But as Patrick aged out of that program and moved into adulthood, the Fitzgeralds noticed a recurring problem. 

“We went from agency to agency,” Mike said. “But we couldn’t find a job (for Patrick.)” 

Lost at what to do, the Fitzgeralds started looking at volunteer positions for Patrick where he could work in food service while still receiving the accommodations he needed. They found Red Door Ministries. 

“Patrick was working there and they loved him,” Mike said. 

But when the pandemic hit, things took a turn, and Patrick was no longer able to volunteer like he used to. So his parents reached out to the Rev. Chris Donley and hatched up a plan to help Patrick stay working. 

They decided to start small and have Patrick and his parents serve coffee and homemade cookies to parishioners after mass. 

Eventually, this idea bloomed into Br. Andre’s Cafe, a permanent coffee shop designed not only to help employ Patrick, but eight other adults with IDD. 

“We’re establishing a community, not just a coffee shop,” Mike said. 

Br. Andre’s Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. They are also open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. 

Check back next week to read the full story of how Br. Andres’ Cafe came to be.