Highly anticipated A Coffee reopens

A coffee shop run by autistic children reopened Friday at its new address.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The staff, eight autistic teenagers, perform at the reopning ceremony held Friday afternoon. They are also members of Angels Confidant Salon orchestra, a charity project initiated in 2008. 

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Autistic teenagers brew coffee for "customers."

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

16-year-old Shen Yanzhen serves coffee to "customers."

Hundreds of people flocked to A Coffee, an Internet sensation because of its unique staff who are autistic teenagers, when it reopened on Friday at its new address after a three-week shutdown.

A Coffee is a charity program founded by charity advocate Cao Xiaoxia. Trained volunteers play “customers” and eight autistic teenagers work as baristas and waiters. The experience gives them the opportunity to get immersed to social life.

Thousands of people have applied to be volunteers. Despite of a huge success, it was told to move out from its first location in Jing’an Park early this month after it just operated three weeks because the venue provider had thought it was just a temporary set-up.

The report of its closure soon went viral and Cao received a huge number of offers of space. Of all the offers, the Shanghai Youth Activities Center, at 188 Hanzhong Road in Jing’an District, stood out for is great location and resources.

Cao said the new 200-meter, rent-free space has convenient traffic access and rich resources. Under the plan, autistic children will have the chance to take academic and music courses and join in a wide range of activities with their peers.

Besides volunteers, many people visited the new address on Friday afternoon. They included a couple from Los Angeles, United States.

The husband Allen Savedoff is touring China with Pacific Symphony, a symphony orchestra based in US. His wife Carole Hajdu, a special education teacher, is traveling along.

They learnt the news from a local tour guide several days ago when they were in Guilin City in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As Hajdu has been devoted to teaching autistic and deaf children for 28 years back in US, they decided to have a look and flew to Shanghai.

Hajdu said she’s happy to see such a charity program make big applause in China and it’s important to offer vocational training to autistic teenagers.

“Back in US, my students learn skills like car wash and baking, and we also have a coffee shop,” she said. “Also, we have some entrepreneurs show financial supports to charity programs of its kind.”

In the reopening ceremony held at 2pm Friday, the eight autistic teenagers performed orchestral music. Besides being "coffee shop staff," they are also members of  Angels Confidant Salon orchestra, a charity project initiated by Cao and her father Cao Peng, reputable musician, in 2008.

Highlight of the decoration is a huge new logo, made up by flowers and leaves, at the entrance. It was designed by “barista” Shen Yanzhen, 16.

A giant “A,” in colorful pieces of jigsaw, stands in the middle of a circle filled in red. The “o” in the word “coffee” has been replaced by a coffee bean. “Blue represents we, green represents you and red represents them,” Shen said. “I want to work every day.”

The new shop is open from 11am to 3pm from Monday to Friday to "customers." Over the weekend, autistic teenagers have other plans including attending the orchestra salon.

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