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Motherly advice: Five lessons a strategist learned from her mom on purpose

Motherly advice: Five lessons a strategist learned from her mom on purpose

By Molly Griffin
Senior Strategist

Three years ago — A conversation with my mother.

MOM: I want to open a coffee shop.

(A beat of silence on my end as I figure out what to say next.)

ME: “Why?” 


To be fair, I am a strategist. And Why? is the question I must always be asking. It’s also the question every brand, business and even individual should be able to answer. It’s an easy thing to ask, but not always an easy thing to answer. But Mom, she knew her why. 

My mother had a mission to open a cafe in Arlington Heights, IL, my hometown — but this wouldn’t be just another coffee shop. This cafe had a beautiful purpose: to hire, train and supervise 30 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They'd learn to serve amazing coffee and fresh-baked pastries while earning competitive wages. That’s a pretty good answer to Why? 

Mom officially launched her mission through a nonprofit, Brewing Opportunities, in December 2018, and is currently in the process of fundraising to open her first Gerry’s Cafe. While I’ve been primarily watching from afar, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build a small business with purpose. So grab a mug of coffee and enjoy just a few ideas from the giant list of things my mother has taught me. 

Recognize a need and create a purpose that will help you take action. 

Mom started her career as a special education teacher and worked with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When she envisioned the next phase of her career, she looked around her community and recognized a problem: according to the CDC, 80% of adults with special needs remain unemployed and isolated from the rest of our community.

ME: This is a problem. 

MOM: Absolutely. Our schools do an excellent job training students to come out of school with a resume. And yet, these adults enter our community ready to work and no one will hire them. I wanted to do something about it.

With the right training and understanding, individuals with disabilities can perform to standard as much as anyone else. And to be clear, this isn’t a volunteer job. These employees will receive a paycheck for their hard work. Just like anyone else would. All problems have the ability to be solved with the right idea.  

Identify all the energy your purpose can create.

At its core, the purpose of Gerry’s Cafe is to create new jobs for people with disabilities. And while this might feel like a niche purpose, it actually has an ability to impact the entire community, no matter your abilities.

MOM: The cafe will bring all kinds of people together and allow you to engage with community members, some you might not have before. It will be a place that recognizes all abilities and celebrates them.

The decision to open a cafe that serves coffee, breakfast and lunch is even connected to the purpose — though I still had another question.

ME: So, why coffee?

MOM: Coffee brings people together and cafes create a gathering place. Breakfast and lunch are specifically meals in which small children can also enjoy. When we start teaching young people that everyone is accepted, no matter what you look like or how you speak, you grow up to not question or discriminate. 

More than just coffee, with this foundation, the cafe will be a place for camaraderie, A place to engage with another human and feel like you are part of something bigger. A place to improve your day, to linger a little longer. And simply put, a place to feel a little joy with a cup of joe. And that is something everyone in the community can be impacted by. 

Use your purpose to drive business decisions big and small. 

MOM: We won’t have a drive-thru or mobile fastpass.

ME: Are you sure?

(Of course she was.)

MOM: We want people interacting. We plan to be very visible, we want people to be able to see our model at work.

For a business that is grounded in connecting people, a speaker box or a dash-in, dash-out system doesn’t exactly allow for that. So while Mom could make more money with this convenience offering, she’d sacrifice something fundamental to her purpose. When you let it, purpose can drive your decisions. 

A deep understanding of your purpose also opens the doors to new ideas. The plan for Gerry’s Cafe is to also house “Training Grounds,” the training area in which employees will gain the skills they need to be hired on full time. The hope? As the community sees people learning and growing, other businesses may consider hiring graduates from her program.

Let people join in your purpose.

ME: What is people’s reaction when you share your mission for Gerry’s Cafe?

MOM: People want this. My vision is not singular. Other people have this vision and see it as a true need. The responses have ranged from I want my child to work there, to this is something the world needs right now. 

On the night Gerry Cafe’s launch party, there was not a parking spot in sight of the launch party location. The community had heard rumblings of this new mission, primarily thanks to Mom’s very active Facebook account, and they wanted to hear more. In one night, they raised $39,000 from just the community. It was clear: people who want to see Gerry’s open. 

And as people expressed excitement, Mom has let them in. 

ME: How is the community getting involved? 

(Besides Facebook likes and shares)

MOM: “We have about 64 Ambassadors, people that are helping us spread the word but also doing their own little fundraisers for us. Simple things like a lemonade stand from a few little elementary school girls to small independent business owners doing their own fundraisers like hosting a gym class or through a wine tasting. These are different events that community members are just stepping up and doing to fundraise.”  

She sure knows how to rally the troops.

According to our research here at Barkley, compared to other generations, Gen Z are becoming more involved in social activism at a much earlier stage in life and specifically value equality for all.  So, I kept pressing.

ME: And what do the kids think of the idea? 

MOM: This generation in particular values the relationships. They know that the relationships they are creating bring joy and something they want to be part of. From dance marathons to tennis team fundraisers, they are taking great pride in the opportunity. 

Purpose has to be felt. 

While the mission of Gerry’s Cafe will directly impact Arlington Heights, it has a purpose that society can embrace. 

ME: How do you see Gerry’s Cafe being a place that can change the world?

MOM: All people should be valued. It doesn’t matter if you have an extra chromosome. We all are human beings. We all deserve love. And I hope this inspires the rest of the world.

(Pretty great, huh?)

Gerry’s Cafe will be a place for the walls to come down — a place for anyone to walk in engage and feel valued. The goal is that every employee and customer will feel the purpose come to life. 


You can’t make up purpose. This is the ultimate lesson any brand can take away from my mom. When you find your brand purpose, it has to be something you feel. Something you live out. And something worth sharing. 

Through watching Mom take on her new mission, she has proved out the lessons she has taught me my entire life. 

MOM: Never give up, always find the positive and do work for the good. 

Aren’t moms the best?


What matters is what you do next. Wanna learn more about building purpose into your business model? Check us out here. Need more info on Gerry's Cafe, and their 2020 summer launch? Follow this link, and let Molly know if you do.

Barkley US

Jan 16, 2020

filed under:
Purpose, Restaurant, Retail


Consumer Products, Finance, More, Purpose, Restaurant, Retail, Sustainability
Brand Culture, Culture, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Sustainability
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