The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with Oklahoma Gazette to highlight people in our community who stand out for their leadership, kindness and good deeds. Read this story on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Tim Herbel is a man who keeps his promises, and making good on one led him on a path he could never have imagined.
“I’ve had three chapters of life. Chapter one, I had it all planned out, went through a divorce. Closed that chapter and did financial services. And at the end of that, I started dating a cardiologist and we went into business together. I was a financial planner. She had her day job, I had mine,” Herbel said.
“We got into coffee in a roundabout way by buying the Full Cup in Edmond. It was Edmond’s number one donut store. We were putting bacon on donuts before Hurts was around, and carried high-end coffee out of Portland. We were the first in town to use a U.S. roasting champion. Developed a relationship with Topeka. We both still had day jobs but by the time that chapter ended, I’d gotten into roasting. I started supplying coffee shops and doing fundraising through coffee. A blend of our coffee was called Not Your Average Joe. Every time we sold that blend, we would give the proceeds to umpteen charities. Everything from charities helping grandparents raise their grandkids, to charities helping with mental illness, to those helping soldiers after returning from tours of duty and those helping special needs constituents.”
It wasn’t long before Herbel found himself the steward of another coffee shop. Over the years, he had cultivated a relationship with the team at Hank’s Coffee. When the owner approached him about the impending sale, his nephew, Braxton, came to mind. Born with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, he passed at age 11, but not before Tim made him a promise.
“I would always tell Braxton, ‘Hey, if Uncle Tim could ever fight for inclusion, I’m gonna do that,’” Herbel said. “Then Marty’s like ‘maybe it’s about time you make good on that promise.’ Long story short, Marty donated Hanks and we made Not Your Average Joe. We went and filed our 501(c)(3) and put together a nationwide board and we said we’re going all in. We’re gonna hire adults with special needs and we’ll see what happens.”
Not Your Average Joe opened its Midtown location Jan. 1, 2019, offering patrons freshly roasted coffee, gourmet bakery items and savory sandwiches.
“We grew 42 percent in the first 14 months, and then COVID came,” Herbel said. “We grew 11 percent during the pandemic and then last year we opened four new stores.”
Herbel wasn’t surprised.
“These people are capable. I mean, you need Danielle’s personality at the front desk of every public school,” Herbel said with a laugh. “No offense, but versus those that are there yet seem to be grumpy and grouchy and just want you out of their hair, Danielle is warm and welcoming. She’s the hostess with the mostess and she’s been here since day one. We printed a report on longevity. I’m the longest employee here, then Danielle, but when you hire special needs people, they don’t leave,” he said.
Herbel and his team now spend a lot of time teaching the importance of inclusion and sharing their stories with other local businesses, schools and organizations.
The coffee shop concept allows parents who often forgo their own ambitions to focus on their children, to return to their careers or simply some autonomy.
“Jennifer, a degreed structural engineer from the School of Architecture at Oklahoma State University, goes out kicks booty professionally, then her youngest daughter is diagnosed with Down. What do you do? Stay home, take care of your child and provide resources. Not Your Average Joe decades later hires her daughter. She’s gainfully employed now. Before, Jennifer couldn’t get a massage and go shopping or go to work,” Herbel said.
Those hired at NYAJ are affectionately referred to as “friends,” and their jobs are tailored to their unique gifts. Credentialed employees with a history of working with people with special needs are also hired to help each friend thrive in their unique position.
“We hire those with Down Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, the blind, the deaf, those with traumatic brain injuries. One of our employees at Broken Arrow had a nail in his head … Different people respond differently to different things and so everybody’s needs are different and everybody’s gifts are different,” Herbel said.
Tim has big plans for the future. A new shop is in the works for the downtown Metropolitan Library and fundraising is already underway to renovate and prepare the location. He hopes to have programs in high schools and shops in cities across the country paving the way for more acceptance and inclusion.
“We’ve been invited to Estes Park, San Diego, Omaha, Albuquerque, Little Rock, Boston, Harlem, and the list goes on. We hope to make some inroads and create inclusion for people of all abilities. People often ask us what it takes to open a store and I tell them — 25 families to serve as a launch team and 25 organizations businesses, churches, other nonprofits, groups that are going to be a center of influence in the community and send customers as well as employees, and then we need to find a quarter-million dollars. We started this on a dime and we’re not here to feed somebody’s 401k or anything like that, so everything that comes in goes to the store and its staff and to hire credentialed employees,” Herbel said.
Tim hopes to see attitudes continue to change and more opportunities come available to those with special needs and he’s proud to be a part of the shift.
“For those of us that are older, back in the day, special needs students weren’t mainstreamed in the classroom. They were segregated and there was maybe their own building, their own room. The neurotypical didn’t know how to respond to neurodiverse. We were afraid of it. Made fun of it. We know what to do with it. And you know, people are saying, ‘Oh, I’m so grateful for what you do for them.’ It’s our lives that are changed. Bennett can jump and hit the ceiling—he’s like Tigger. He’s 26, this is his first job and he’s coming up on one year here. He has every episode of Thomas the Tank Engine and Scooby Doo memorized, and that’s where he’s at. Danielle wants to go get certificates for photography and public speaking. Everybody’s differently-abled and it’s truly a joy to get to know them and work alongside them.”
To learn more about Not Your Average Joe, visit www.nyaj.coffee.