Not Your Average Joe: Grinding down barriers one cup at a time

OklahomaBusinessCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: VNN Collaboration
Published: 03/22/2024, 7:00 PM
Edited: 05/18/2024, 5:07 PM

Written By: Brittany Harlow in collaboration with Broken Arrow Sentinel  

Not Your Average Joe: Grinding down barriers one cup at a time

(BROKEN ARROW, Okla.) According to recent studies, Americans drink coffee more than any other beverage, even water. For many, coffee is more than just a beverage. It’s an extra push to get out of bed in the morning, a conduit for interpersonal communication, and a helping hand to make it through an extended workday.

At Not Your Average Joe’s six locations across Oklahoma, including one right here in Broken Arrow, the award-winning coffee chain creates a space for people with disabilities to work and thrive.

Not Your Average Joe was founded in Oklahoma City in 2019 by Executive Director Tim Herbel in honor of his nephew Braxton, who lived with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus until his death at just 11 years old.

After attending a lunch at one of the Not Your Average Joe locations in Oklahoma City, Dr. Amy Emerson knew she had to bring the amazing coffee shop back to Broken Arrow. And her husband Dr. Clint Emerson’s orthodontist's office Emerson Orthodontics was just the place to do it.

“We're here because Dr. Emerson has a love for the community,” Not Your Average Joe Broken Arrow Manager Craig Hicks said. “His whole family does. And so they provide the space for us.”

Hicks said while Emerson the only downside to the donated space is the size, which does not allow for the full kitchen other Not Your Average Joe locations have.

The Broken Arrow location opened in 2021.

Hicks said foot traffic was low when first joined the team a little over a year ago, sometimes less than 15 customers a day due to the low traffic area. While his initial focus was to expand to a larger store, that soon changed, along with his perspective. And then Hicks began to notice other changes.

“Ever since we changed our hearts and attitudes and accepted where we're at and the blessing of it, our ticket counts have been really high for us,” Hicks said. “So, we are averaging in the 40s a day. A couple of weeks ago, we had 53, which for us is great. And that is because number one, I say this all the time, yeah, it's a nonprofit, but it's not a charity. We're not asking people to come in and drink toilet water and feel sorry for us. Oh, I'm just here because I want to support your mission. We have very good coffee that we roast.”

All of their coffee is roasted in Oklahoma. Varieties include the NYAJ House Blend, 405 Espresso, Colombian, and Midnight Oil.

“People drink it and there's that, whoa, it's really good,” Hicks said. “Then to say, here's the really cool thing about that: That cup of coffee you just bought is literally going directly to helping

people who want jobs that would otherwise have a hard time and not be working. 80% of people with disabilities are not employed or underemployed. Many of them want jobs. We have more opportunities to hire people than we could possibly use in this space.”

Not Your Average Joe’s is not just breaking down barriers for store employees, called friends, but also setting industry records, especially in roasting.

This includes former friends Sabrina Denham becoming the first barista from Oklahoma to make it to the US Barista championship and Hannah Barstow becoming Oklahoma's first certified female master roaster during their time at Not Your Average Joe.

And Andi Parnacher, a citizen of Choctaw Nation with Kiowa and Chickasaw lineage, who recently became the first Specialty Coffee Association certified Native American female roaster in the world.

“Prior to me coming on to the Not Your Average Joe team, I had never been in a space to be able to work with those with an IDPD, intellectual developmental or physical disability,” Parnacher said. “In my community, in the Native American community, I had noticed I don't see a lot of people who are neurodiverse. And that was because in my eyes and from my perspective, they're very sheltered so they don't get made fun of or they aren’t hurt and they just want to protect them.”

Parnacher is one of Not Your Average Joe’s neurotypical leaders. After joining the organization while living in Kansas two years ago, she now serves as both co-director of Coffee Initiatives and co-director of Strategic Partnerships.

“This has really changed my life,” Parnacher said. “A couple of weeks into me working here, we lost our first adult with a special need. His name is John Hayes and was our head chef. He did everything. He was blind and deaf. Once he passed away, I didn't realize how much of an impact that had on my life.”

Following the loss, Parnacher transferred to Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City and began working for Not Your Average Joe full-time.

“I train our staff, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, in coffee,” Parnacher said. “So I'll go to the stores and I'll help them with whatever they need help with. I’ll hold trainings after close or we’ll do a whole day of training at one of our locations.”

She said she embraces all opportunities to make the coffee industry as inclusive as possible.

“The thing about the coffee industry is that it can be very exclusive,” Parnacher said. “It's almost seen as like well, if you don't know this, then you're kind of looked down on because you should already know this if you're in the coffee industry. And it's like, no. You don't know what you don't know.”

Last year, Parnacher was one of six women worldwide to receive a Coffee Project New York Scholarship, which provided in-person training at their facility in New York City. She has since brought all of the knowledge she gained there back to her friends.

“They are just such a light and such a joy,” Parnacher said. “They have really changed my perspective.”

In Broken Arrow, Not Your Average Joe employs eight friends with six volunteers helping out as their time allows.

Kate Coffey, who lives with autism, has been a friend since the Broken Arrow location opened.

“I'm not really good with change, that's unfortunate, but we're a team, so we try to make everything work,” Coffey said. “And when one of us stumbles, the whole team stumbles. When I mess up, I feel I'm a burden, but they're so nice. They encourage me.”

Coffey said the best thing about Not Your Average Joe is her co-workers and the community.

“We're building a family here,” Coffey said. “And that's what I love. And that's what my parents wanted for me, to be in a job where I feel like I can talk freely among friends, which is super sweet and nice.”

Not Your Average Joe Broken Arrow is located at 800 West Mission Street, Broken Arrow, OK, 74012. They are open Monday through Friday 8 AM to 5 PM. You can browse their extensive coffee menu here.


Hanna Olson
04/01/2024, 5:27 PM

Love stories like these! Seems like such an empowering and awesome organization :)