Entrepreneur Gabi Angelini on Gabi’s Grounds, Life with Down Syndrome, and Inspiring So Many

Gabi Angelini is an entrepreneur, author, and all-around inspiration who has appeared on ABC Nightline, the Kelly Clarkson Show, and has been featured on countless local news and radio shows. Gabi has Down Syndrome. Along with her mother Mary, Gabi runs Gabi’s Grounds Coffee. Today on the show, Gabi and Mary talk about how Gabi’s Grounds got off the ground, the challenges of Down Syndrome, why people with special needs are often great employees, the GoFundMe to start up a storefront, and making a special “Coffee and Cookies” flavor at Two Roosters Ice Cream.

Gabi Angelini Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast

Jackie Ferguson: Hello, and welcome to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. I’m your host. Jackie Ferguson Certified Diversity Executive, writer, and multicultural marketing consultant. On this podcast, we share diverse perspectives from leaders in their industries, explore diversity, equity and inclusion concepts, and challenge our own assumptions and perspectives to take diversity beyond the checkbox.

Before we introduce today’s guest, for more insights and resources related to diversity and inclusion, including our course, also titled Diversity Beyond the Checkbox, visit TheDiversityMovement.com.

Gabi Angelini is an entrepreneur, author and model who has appeared on ABC Nightline, the Kelly Clarkson Show and has been featured on countless local news and radio shows. Gabi has down syndrome. She’s here today with her mother, Mary Angelini. Gabi and Mary, I’m so happy to have you on the podcast today.

Can you tell me a little about yourselves?

Mary Angelini: Oh, thank you, Jackie. We’re happy to be here. You wanna tell them about yourself, Gabi?

Gabi Angelini: Yeah, I have five brothers, and I’m the only girl in my family.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome.

Mary Angelini: That’s right. So we have six children, five boys. Gabi’s not the youngest. Gabi’s 22. We live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Can you tell us about Gabi’s grounds?

Gabi Angelini: At first, I want to get a restaurant. Then when I want to get my own restaurant, I save all my money in my checks. Then I told my mom “I want to do my own business.” Then me and my mom were in Wilmington to visit a coffee shop. Then my mom said I can do a coffee shop, like not do a restaurant. And I said “Let’s do it!”

Mary Angelini: That’s right. That’s what she said.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome. And Gabi, do you like coffee?

Gabi Angelini: It’s my favorite, coffee.

Jackie Ferguson: What kind of coffee do you drink? What’s your favorite drink?

Gabi Angelini: My favorite is dark roast ground.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, OK. That’s awesome.

Mary Angelini: Except in the summer, in the summer you like what?

Gabi Angelini: I like chocolate caramel.

Mary Angelini: But iced coffees.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome. So why did you think about starting Gabi’s Grounds? What’s the background story on that?

Mary Angelini: Well, she was applying to many jobs, right? And she’d get all dressed up and we practice all the interview questions, and then what happened? Everybody would just say –

Gabi Angelini: They keep saying, no, I am too slow to do it.

Mary Angelini: But they didn’t even let you do it, right? Like the smoothie job, they didn’t even try you. They just said, nope.

Gabi Angelini: They never gave me a chance to do that.

Mary Angelini: Nope, no chances. They just say “You’re too slow,” but they didn’t even try, so then we said – we kept doing that over and over, right? Nobody wanted to hire you, right?

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Mary Angelini: So I said, you want to do that restaurant? Let’s do something similar, right? So Gabi’s Grounds was born.

Gabi Angelini: Oh yeah.

Mary Angelini: And we went to a local coffee roaster. Who did we go to?

Gabi Angelini: Larry.

Mary Angelini: Larry’s beans. And Larry made a –

Gabi Angelini: He made a special blend for me and it is Guatemalan and some matcha.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh wow, that’s a great combination.  And tell us, why do you think people make wrong assumptions about people with disabilities in the workplace? And what do you want to tell employers about hiring more broadly?

Gabi Angelini: They just didn’t get any chance to get a job there.

Mary Angelini: Do they do that to your friends, too?

Gabi Angelini: And they do that to my friends, too.

Mary Angelini: So you think that we should – the message to people who have companies that they should give to people with special needs a chance?

Gabi Angelini: Like they say give my friends of disabilities to have a chance to get their jobs and they could work with me when it’s open.

Mary Angelini: Right.

Gabi Angelini: To get a chance.

Mary Angelini: Because you guys are great workers, right? You’re hard workers. You were always dressed an hour before work when you worked at Harris Teeter and you knew your schedule –

Gabi Angelini: And time limits, too.

Mary Angelini: Time limits, and you were never late and you were never sick. You were always a hard worker, right? Just like – your friends are the same, right? You guys are great employees.

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing. I think that the employers are really missing the mark because there are so many amazing attributes that people with disabilities have. They’re also amazing problem solvers, I’ve learned that being in the diversity business myself. So, I think absolutely, people should think more carefully about being more inclusive in their hiring practices, so thanks for sharing that.

Mary Angelini: And also too, when people are around people with special needs, they, they get a whole different sense of community. You know, they’re inspired to work harder because they see their work ethic and they want to be friends with them and they see the love that comes through them, that they wouldn’t see otherwise.

So it’s, it’s a win, win all the way around, right?

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. That’s right. It’s certainly, you know, a lot of times you go through the day and go through the grocery store or different, you know, the smoothie shop or whatever, and you get, you know, kind of the, you know yeah, thanks for coming in. But with some people, you get this amazingly warm reception and it changes the whole, the whole trajectory of your doesn’t it?

Mary Angelini: That’s true, right? That’s your superpower, isn’t it?

Gabi Angelini: Oh, mom.

Mary Angelini: You would just give off this love vibe to everybody.

Gabi Angelini: Especially hugs.

Mary Angelini: Yep. You’ve been missing those hugs these days.

Gabi Angelini: Yeah. It’s hard.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. It’s hard to give hugs nowadays, isn’t it Gabi?

Mary Angelini: I’m getting all the extra hugs, right? When she can’t hug somebody, she’ll hug me. So I get the extra hugs.

Jackie Ferguson: I love it. And that was actually another one of my questions, Gabi. I believe that everyone has a superpower. So can you talk to me about what your superpower is?

Gabi Angelini: My superpower is giving hugs to people that I love, especially my mom.

Mary Angelini: It makes people happy when you give them a hug, doesn’t it?

Gabi Angelini: It always does.

Mary Angelini: Somebody could have a sad face on and if you hug them?

Gabi Angelini: Upside down.

Mary Angelini: Upside down.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. You know, a lot of studies show that giving hugs actually is good for people’s health and blood pressure. So you’re really contributing to people being more healthy. So I love that. I love that. Can we talk about down syndrome for those who don’t know? Can we talk about what it is and, and give our listeners a little more information?

Mary Angelini: Down syndrome is when then there’s an extra copy on the chromosome 21. So there’s three copies on, on the 21st chromosome and, you know, one in like 700 babies are born with it in the United States, so about 6,000 a year are born. They used to think that it was for older mothers, but a lot of younger mothers are having children with down syndrome now.

So, they have an increased risk for heart defects, or respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s could be an early onset, childhood leukemia, thyroid conditions – Gabi’s had her thyroid out – low muscle tone. But, you know, they have some other thing that just makes them so sweet and lovable –

Gabi Angelini: And cute.

Mary Angelini: And cute. And the best, so.

Gabi Angelini: I’m adorable.

Mary Angelini: You are adorable.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. Mary, can you talk a little bit about being a mother to a person with down syndrome and some of the challenges you might have had to face?

Mary Angelini: When she was young, you know, that we had the heart surgery, which was hard and eye surgery and, you know, a couple of other surgeries in there.

So it was, you know, it was difficult in the beginning to, you know. She was my, our only daughter and, you know, so that was even another added stress to it. And then, you know, starting school, it’s always – you have to really be a child advocate for your child because the school systems have their own rigid thinking.

And, you know, especially 22 years ago, they didn’t want people to be in the classroom with the other kids. So, I mean, it was a fight. So we were constantly fighting for her rights to be in that classroom. But you know, she wasn’t invited to many things. She wasn’t invited to birthday parties.

She wasn’t, you know, she’d see her brothers going or sleepovers, right?

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Mary Angelini: So it was kind of lonely ’til, I think, ’til like, high school, and then you got a bunch of new friends in high school. So, you know, but that was 20 years ago, times have changed. People are more inclusive. And, you know, I think Gabi and her friends paved the way and people before us paved the way to make this a more inclusive society, right?

Gabi Angelini: Oh, yes.

Jackie Ferguson: Gabi, tell me about some of the things that you like to do for fun outside of being a coffee entrepreneur?

Gabi Angelini: I love playing basketball outside, and sometimes football with my brothers, and sometimes I’m skateboarding.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, wow. So very active.

Gabi Angelini: Yeah, that’s me.

Mary Angelini: Yeah, you’re a swimmer. She was a swimmer too, right?

Gabi Angelini: And trampoline.

Mary Angelini: And the trampoline.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. That’s a lot. Do you think that you get that from having so many brothers and spending time with them in sports?

Gabi Angelini: Oh, yeah.

Mary Angelini: Yeah, they were just – her younger brother was jumping on the trampoline one time the other day.

Gabi Angelini: He does backflips. He taught me how to do one. I landed on my knees, it was easy.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. I can’t tell you the last time I tried to do a back flip, but it was a long time ago.

So Gabi you’ve been on Nightline, the Kelly Clarkson Show, and a lot of news and radio shows. What’s been your favorite experience and why?

Gabi Angelini: My favorite experience was the Kelly Clarkson Show and going to Spago’s with Wolfgang Puck.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, yes. I saw that. I saw that you ate at Spago. So tell me what you ordered?

Gabi Angelini: We just got appetizers and other drinks, too.

Mary Angelini: I think it was a, I think it was a sampler menu, right? So you got the, every few minutes they brought you in another kind of sampler from the menu.

Gabi Angelini: Especially with drinks, so good.

Mary Angelini: Especially the drinks, yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: So you’re telling me that Wolfgang Puck made a special menu for you?

Gabi Angelini: Oh yeah, and a separate table for my mom.

Mary Angelini: Yeah, we sat in separate tables.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. I know a lot of people would be jealous of that.

Mary Angelini: Yeah. And even he took a picture with her in the kitchen, right?

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, you got to go to the kitchen in the back?

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. That’s exciting. That is fantastic. Gabi, tell me about bedtime stories with Gabi that you host on Facebook Live.

My favorite book to do is Anger Ninja. Like, my favorite one is the angry one because it could sometimes just make up like, what your anger, stress is about if you get angry at someone and you still talk it out with words, not actions.

Mary Angelini: So every week, so you read every week, tell her –

Gabi Angelini: Every week on Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. We’re on Facebook live.

Mary Angelini: And every week it’s a different –

Gabi Angelini: story book.

Mary Angelini: Like, like you said, about anger or stress –

Gabi Angelini: or nervous.

Mary Angelini: Or people with disabilities. And what was the one you read last Tuesday?

Gabi Angelini: I did “Perfect As You Are.”

Mary Angelini: And you know, it was from who? It was from Kelly, right?

Gabi Angelini: From Kelly.

Mary Angelini: Kelly Clarkson wrote it.

Gabi Angelini: Oh, by River Rose, her daughter.

Mary Angelini: She wrote it about her daughter. So Gabi read that one, right?

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And Gabi, can you tell me something about that book that our listeners would want to hear?

Gabi Angelini: River Rose is about she’s a kid. She could do adventures like, wherever she wants to go and she gives hugs like me to make them feel good.

Mary Angelini: Yeah, and there was lullabies in there, too. Wasn’t there a little lullaby and that song? And Gabi co-wrote a book, right?

Gabi Angelini: Gabi the Puppy book.

Mary Angelini: Gabi the Puppy.

Jackie Ferguson: Gabi the Puppy. OK, tell me about that book.

Gabi Angelini: Gabi the Puppy book is about, I got bullied since high school and college and I overcome it from, with my mom to make me feel good about myself and dress me up because I love getting dressep up by her because I love her. It’s my best friend.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, that’s amazing.

Mary Angelini: Oh, it’s true.

Jackie Ferguson: Tell me about what advice you would give for people who are being bullied.

Gabi Angelini: Like, just be yourself and not to let other people think about you and just focus on yourself all the time and not doubt yourself. Just be who you really are.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s great advice, Gabi. I think that’s good advice for all of us, isn’t it? Amazing.

Tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.

Gabi Angelini: I can be a really great break dancer.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. So what kind of music do you listen to when you break dance, Gabi?

Gabi Angelini: Sometimes pop and sometimes Michael Jackson.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. That, you know, I love to ask that question because you always get interesting answers and that is definitely an interesting answer.

I would not have expected that.

So let’s talk about this GoFundMe that you have to open your own coffee, karaoke, dance warehouse. That sounds like a lot of fun. Talk about what you’re endeavoring to do and how people can donate to your GoFundMe.

Gabi Angelini: They can donate to www.gabisgrounds.com.

Mary Angelini: So we needed more space. So we’re going to get the warehouse space, have a little storefront area for your parties, right?

Gabi Angelini: My dance parties and karaoke nights.

Mary Angelini: Yep.

Jackie Ferguson: So Gabi, tell me about your dance parties and karaoke nights. Do you do karaoke? Do you enjoy that?

Gabi Angelini: I love karaoke. It’s really fun.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome. What’s your favorite song to sing in karaoke?

Gabi Angelini: My favorite song is Taylor Swift. By Taylor Swift, the song “Bad Blood.”

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, that’s a good one.

Gabi Angelini: And sometimes “You Belong With Me.”

Jackie Ferguson: And do you plan to give some dance lessons?

Gabi Angelini: I’ve never done dance lessons, but I could teach people to do it.

Jackie Ferguson: Maybe you can teach me how to break dance a little bit.

Mary Angelini: She’s good. She’s really good.

Gabi Angelini: I’m really good.

Mary Angelini: You are.

In South Carolina, Myrtle Beach once, there was some, you remember this, there was some break dancers on the sidewalk. We were walking by and they had a big piece of cardboard and they were taking turns. So she gets out there. She shows them their stuff, didn’t you?

Gabi Angelini: Oh yeah.

Mary Angelini: You weren’t shy.

Gabi Angelini: I’m never shy.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome. Can you talk a little about the products that people can buy when they go to Gabi’s Grounds?

Gabi Angelini: Like I have this of the coffee, what Larry’s made me for a special blend. It’s really good.

Mary Angelini: Your dark roast –

Gabi Angelini: Dark roast and bean roast and decaf and Kcups.

Mary Angelini: And you have tea –

Gabi Angelini: And tea, herbal tea.

Mary Angelini: And cute little heart tea diffusers, and we’ve got coffee soap, coffee candles –

Gabi Angelini: And facial scrub.

Mary Angelini: We have coffee face scrub, mugs, tumblers. You have lots of stuff.

Jackie Ferguson: Fantastic. And you have a little gift bags and gift baskets for people to buy as well?

Mary Angelini: Yep.

Jackie Ferguson: What a great gift, and I think people are looking more for those nice gift packages because they can’t get out as much and shop in person can they? Well, Gabi, what else would you like to tell our listeners about you?

Gabi Angelini: I’m a breakdancer and I love singing in the car my mom and I love spending time with my dad, and my niece, and my nephew, and my brothers.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome. And Gabi, can you tell us about your relationship with your mom? I can see how much you love her. Can you talk a little about how she’s supported you and, and what she does from a day to day basis?

Gabi Angelini: My mom, I just love her because she helps me out with my business a lot, and she’s trying to help me to get my business to open and she’s helping me how to move out own one day to have it be independent and responsible, I am.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing. That’s, you know, that’s the mark of every good parent to, you know, love their children and help them to be independent, isn’t that right ?

Mary Angelini: You are miss independent .

Jackie Ferguson: Tell me a story about Gabi growing up that’s particularly special to you.

Mary Angelini: She was just always out there with her brothers. They were all skateboarders, and I could just remember them out on the, you know, in the back by the garage, all skateboarding and she’s out there right there with them, with her little tiny skateboard. Just everything they did – they were on the trampoline, she was right next to them, you know, roller skating, swimming –

Gabi Angelini: Everything.

Mary Angelini:  Everything. She’s just always keeping up with those brothers. I think they definitely pulled her along and got her out there and thinking and treated her just like everybody else. That’s what I think, too, and you’re starting another thing on Facebook Live on Thursdays, what is that called?

Gabi Angelini: The Gabi Show.

Mary Angelini: The Gabi Show.

Jackie Ferguson: The Gabi Show. Tell me that .

Gabi Angelini: I’m just gonna interview people that is a business owners of their own companies.

Mary Angelini: That have special needs

Gabi Angelini: That have special needs.

Mary Angelini: Right? So she’s going to interview people. So who do we have lined up?

Gabi Angelini: We DJ from Imagine Friends, Sean from Born This Way and John’s Crazy Socks.

Mary Angelini: They’re our first three that you’re going to interview, right? So entrepreneurs that have their own business. So that’s who you’re going to interview.

Gabi Angelini: Yep.

Mary Angelini: Tell the world about them

Jackie Ferguson: Exciting. So Gabi, what do you like best about being an entrepreneur?

Gabi Angelini: It’s really fun ’cause I like doing everything with my mom. Like especially just stuff with my mom, ’cause it’s really fun to do it.

Mary Angelini: It was, it was fun when we were traveling more, right? When we were flying into conferences and you would speak to the adults with special needs about how to start your own company and we’d stay in the hotels and sell our coffee at the events, those were fun days.

Gabi Angelini: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. And how has COVID-19 changed the way that you are conducting business?

Mary Angelini: It has changed it dramatically. There’s no conferences, there’s no pop-up events. So our sales have dropped by 50%, I would say so because we did a lot of in person events locally and, you know, across the States at conferences.

So yeah, but our online business is still there, so people can still order online.

Jackie Ferguson: Amazing. And Gabi, I heard you had a specific ice cream flavor at one of the local ice cream shops. Is that right?

Gabi Angelini: Oh yeah. It’s coffee and cookies.

Jackie Ferguson: And tell us about where that ice cream was.

Gabi Angelini: At Two Roosters.

Jackie Ferguson: Two roosters. OK, awesome. Well, that sounds delicious.

Mary Angelini: They said what’s her favorite? And we said Oreos and they brought that flavor back, popular demand, wanted it back. So it’s back on the menu again.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s exciting.

Gabi, you’re kind of a local celebrity. So what do you enjoy most about all the exposure and all the attention that you get?

Gabi Angelini: I love all the attention ’cause I liked being in the spotlight.

Mary Angelini: So like, everywhere she goes, people, “Are you Gabi, are you Gabi from Gabi’s Grounds,” right? Everywhere you go. People feel like they know you because they see you online all the time.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. That’s exciting. Well, so what’s next? So you’re having the GoFundMe for your coffee, karaoke, dance warehouse, which I am super excited about. What else are you thinking about doing in the future?

Gabi Angelini: Get a husband like, an attractive husband was hot abs and muscles. And good looks.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. Well, Gabi and Mary, thank you so much for being here today and sharing your story with us. You’re so inspiring and we wish you all the best. To learn more about Gabi and to purchase Gabi’s Grounds,  please visit gabisgrounds.com. Thank you both so much for spending some time.

Mary Angelini: Thank you.

Jackie Ferguson: Thanks for tuning in everyone. If you like the show, we encourage you to subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen and leave us a rating and review as well. This show was edited and produced by Earfluence. If you’re looking for information on how full service podcast production can amplify your voice and build your community, visit Earfluence.com.

I’m Jackie Ferguson. And we’ll see you soon on Diversity Beyond the Checkbox.

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Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is presented by The Diversity Movement and hosted by Jackie Ferguson. For more information including the online course, head over to TheDiversityMovement.com. Podcast production by Earfluence.