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Update | Fall/Winter 2023

Nick Fetzer Serves Up Change, One Cup at a Time

Chris Malina

Photography by Rebecca Stumpf

Nick Fetzer smiling inside his shop

Like so many good love stories, this one starts at summer camp.

But this story doesn’t end when summer’s last campfire gets extinguished. In fact, for Nick Fetzer (BBA ’23), it’s just getting started.

Fetzer is the general manager and part-owner of the newly opened Bitty & Beau’s Coffee franchise in Boulder, Colorado, a rapidly growing chain that focuses on employing and empowering individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For Fetzer, it’s not just a job. Rather, it’s the culmination of everything he’s done—and loved—in recent years, from volunteering at an all-abilities summer camp to finding career purpose through the Wisconsin School of Business.

“It’s really my dream opportunity,” he says. “This business introduces people to the world of disability. Customers get to see how capable individuals with disabilities are and just how much of an impact they can have.”

For most people, celebrating your college graduation and grand opening of your business, all in the span of a few months, would produce more than a little anxiety. But love sometimes means taking that jump, and after all, when you’re pursuing your passion—and feel prepared for it—who’s got time to be nervous?

tote bag with text that says: a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop
Nick Fetzer leaning against coffee counter

Nick Fetzer is ready to put a smile on his customers’ faces at the newly opened Bitty & Beau’s Coffee franchise in Boulder, Colorado.

Bitty & Beau's tables
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Pursuing a passion

Growing up in Houston, Texas, Fetzer says he was drawn to the University of Wisconsin–Madison from a young age. How and why he fixated on a Big Ten university more than 1,000 miles from home remains a hot family debate, but the young student and budding athlete set his sights on Wisconsin, where he’d eventually be recruited to the Badger soccer team and pursue a management and human resources degree at WSB.

Along the way, Fetzer began volunteering at a summer camp to fulfill a high school service requirement. There, he worked one-on-one with kids and adults with developmental disabilities—and a spark was ignited.

“I just fell in love with it,” Fetzer says. “Camp became my happy place. There was so much love coming from both the campers and the workers.”

Over time, Fetzer took on a larger role at camp, returning every summer throughout high school and college, getting his parents and two brothers involved as volunteers, and eventually joining the staff.

Without fully realizing it, his camp community rubbed off on him—so much so that when asked in a WSB management class how he hoped to use his degree, his response surprised even him: I want to work with people with disabilities.

“That was the first time I had heard myself say that out loud,” says Fetzer. “Many businesses aren’t tapping into that pool of potential employees because they see disability on a job application. My instructor, Tanya Hubanks (BA ’94, JD ’98, MS ’98), grabbed onto that right away and helped put me on the path to doing what I’m doing now. I’m forever grateful for that.”

“Customers get to see how capable individuals with disabilities are and just how much of an impact they can have.”

—Nick Fetzer (BBA ’23)

Brewing up change

Nearing graduation, Fetzer received a business proposition from an unlikely source: his mom, Julia.

Having discovered Bitty & Beau’s on vacation, she immediately saw a business that aligned with the family’s values—and one that also happened to be expanding.

When she pitched the idea for opening a Bitty & Beau’s franchise with family ownership and Fetzer managing the business, he says he initially hesitated. But after his first visit to one of the stores—and an impromptu business chat with the location’s owner, who happened to be sitting in the corner that day—he quickly changed his tune.

“I sat in that coffee shop and felt like I was at home,” Fetzer says. “All the people coming through had smiles on their faces. I thought, why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this?”

After deciding to move forward with the business, the family immediately hit the ground running. With ties to Colorado, the family chose Boulder as the location for their franchise and eventually discovered the perfect store location on a popular thoroughfare that Fetzer compares to Madison’s State Street.

What followed were the nitty-gritty business tasks that come with being a general manager: marketing, training, and hiring a team of nearly two dozen employees. Fetzer even recruited some of his camp team to join him as shift supervisors.

Then, on the last day of September 2023, the store officially celebrated its grand opening. Even on a busy college football Saturday, hundreds of people showed up to grab coffee and meet the employees—something Fetzer says overwhelmed him with emotion.

Now, he’s focusing on building upon the store’s initial momentum. And while he hopes customers are feeling the same love that he’s felt, he’s also wishing for something else as they pass through his doors: understanding.

“We’re not a nonprofit. We want people to understand that this is a profitable business model, that working with individuals with disabilities can absolutely make a profit,” Fetzer says. “Success is people walking in the door and seeing that this works. At the same time, when I see a smile on someone’s face after an interaction with an employee, that’s also success. We’re here to make profit, but also, we’re here to make the world a better place.”