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A man with autism opened a cafe with his family during the pandemic. Now, they're helping young people with disabilities enter the workforce.

Man with autism runs cafe with a mission of inclusion
Man with autism runs cafe with a mission of inclusion04:17

Jacob McFarland loves making and bringing his parents coffee — earning him the household nickname "Barista Jake," which spread to the rest of Norristown, Pennsylvania. And now the 21-year-old, who has autism, has his own cafe.

Making coffee for his dad is a passion. "It makes me feel very, very happy. It really does. I'm telling you the truth. It totally does," Jacob told CBS News.

"He's telling you the truth!" said his mom Angela. "Jacob is his father's biggest fan, and my husband loves coffee. So, everything my husband loves, Jacob loves. I didn't know though, that Jacob was immersing himself in all types of research about the proper beans to use, the different coffee blends, the best water, the water temperature, the technology of the whole thing. I didn't know any of that."

His parents own a record store in town, and they had to temporarily close it when the pandemic hit because it was not an essential business. Jacob, who was 19 at the time and had graduated high school, was still in continuing education courses, but those halted too. 

"He craves routine and he didn't have a routine anymore because of the pandemic," Angela said. "So, we decided to do a curbside coffee cart outside of our store."

The coffee cart was a way to keep customers coming out – even though they couldn't shop for records inside the store. It had a double benefit, because Jacob got to live out his dream of being "Barista Jake," his mom said. 

"What that turned into was an overwhelming community appreciation of Jacob," she added. 

The cart eventually moved inside the record store, and The Coffee Closet with Barista Jake expanded. "I got to make the hot coffee, we watched a video, learned how to do iced coffee. Then, we got our license to start serving food. So, we do breakfast stuff," Jacob said. 

Not only was the coffee business successful, it helped change Jacob's life. "It just has been a whirlwind ever since. The person Jacob is now – the fact that you asked a question and he jumped right in with the answer, that never would've happened two years ago," Angela said.

The cafe has expanded even further, by employing other young people with disabilities – and helping them with future employment endeavors.

"We just want this to be a safe place for these people to come in, feel of service and of value, learn some vocational skills," she said. "I also help them with resume design and preparation, we do mock interviews ... We'll eventually have a little storage facility where they can have interview attire, so they can get ready to go out and interview and put their best foot forward."

The cafe also holds regular fundraisers for local charities and has raised about $27,000 in total for scholarship funds, organizations that help the homeless, organizations for people with autism and more. 

Having a business has also helped Jacob socially. "While he had people that he was in school with, he's never had a sleepover, he's never gone on vacation with a friend, he's never brought a friend on vacation. He didn't have some of those experiences," his mom said. "And now, when I hear him having very organic, casual conversations with his coworkers, and they're high-fiving, and, 'Hey, good to see you, buddy,' I can't tell you what that does to me. Because I never thought that he would have that. And he's really making his way."

To the McFarlands, the Coffee Closet isn't just a family business, it's a welcoming place for all – and a legacy for Jacob. "I think he feels like he has a purpose. And he gets really excited to come to work, and he will see certain people, he knows their car and he'll start making their coffee before they've even walked in the door," Angela said. 

"He's found the social side of himself. And if this were to all go away tomorrow, the advancement in Jacob in two and a half years has been worth everything." 

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