Ethan and the Bean Serves Great Coffee with Service from Special People

Photos courtesy of Debra Goggins

Photo of Pay It Forward wall by Steve Sears

By Steve Sears

Pam Donovan of West Caldwell, who was seeking to find a place for her son, Ethan, to work and was coming up empty, decided to create a life for him that, in her words, “was purposeful.”

Ethan, who is 20 and attends school in Denville at Celebrate the Children, has autism, and has suffered with epilepsy since age 6. “I figured that no one was going to hire him, and I better just get with the program,” she says.

Danielle Felter, who manages what Donovan has created, calls the venture thus far “trial and error” but at the same time “positive and very rewarding” for all involved.

Welcome to Ethan and The Bean, a two-year-old 501 3c non-profit coffee shop, located at 98 Main Street in Little Falls which hires workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It opened at its current location in October 2019. The exclusive roaster of the shops coffee is Montclair’s Java Love Coffee Roasters, but the menu also includes, per the website, “…assorted pastries from We Knead the Dough, daily baked scones, muffins and donuts with gluten free, dairy free and vegan options.”

Donovan started the coffee shop as a pilot program at Intensive Therapeutics in West Caldwell. A mock café was set up, and a 1,200 square foot kitchen where students at a summer camp learned how to grind and brew coffee and bake as well. The product was not initially sold to the public.

Forced to look for a space, Donovan with some help found their current one, a lovely little shop with a few tables and a very homey atmosphere. When she saw it, Donovan exclaimed, “I said, ‘Oh my gosh this would be great!’” She also states, “This town (Little Falls) has been overwhelmingly supportive.”

“He’s very relaxed,” says Donovan of her son, “and not your typical person with autism. He really doesn’t have a lot of the behaviors.” 

Ethan loves what he does, especially filling the online orders because there is a start and a finish to the task. “Some of the jobs I like to do is grinding the beans and labeling the coffee bags,” he says via email. He also was busy during the Christmas season. “I like packing and shipping the holiday orders.”

Thomas Krakoviak is seeking to be a future chef. He has worked in restaurant kitchens. He suffers with Asperger Syndrome, another form of autism. He is big on inventory and, in Donovan’s words, “very precise and methodical.” She says inventory is right up his alley. “You can always find something for someone to be good at.” 

A clipboard is in his in Krakoviak’s hand. “It helps me on concentration, shows me how to pay attention to detail and how things are supposed to be prepared. I mean, I’m practicing latte art and it’s not that easy. I do it because it’s such a much more advanced challenge, just frosting milk the old-fashioned way is easy, preparing a container of latte with that milk is easy; I want to surprise the customers.” For him, the best thing about working at Ethan and The Bean is labor itself. “And the customers react, mostly positively.” He envisions soon baking fresh muffins, a future goal of the nonprofit.


Word gets around. “We had a man here from Manhattan today,” Donovan says excitedly. “He came here from Manhattan just because he read about it. I was like, ‘Oh my God – thank you for coming!””

Felter, a veteran coffeehouse worker, offers the following. “We have live entertainment every Friday from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.” As she speaks, she is sipping coffee next to the shop’s “Pay It Forward” wall, a special spot listing names of those who have indeed done the good deed. “I think it works because as a society you have to have patience, and I think a coffee shop is the perfect environment for that. It’s low pressure, it’s not that serious, and if we mess up your drink it’s not a big deal. It’s about talking to people, getting to know people, interacting with people.”

“What we do,” adds Donovan, “and what we would like to do for the future is – our biggest mission is to employ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And also, at the same time, engage and educate society about persons with disabilities.”

Donovan welcomes input from parents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities needs children. Visit or call (973) 826-9880.

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