The Nest Coffee House in Deep River, ‘a place to belong’ for folks with autism, developmental issues

DEEP RIVER — Covered in yellow and white paint, head to toe, volunteers worked together on a recent Saturday to paint walls and ceilings to prepare for the expansion of The Nest Coffee House.

Open since 2019, this cafe, in the heart of Deep River, has welcomed more to their flock and outgrown the space they occupy at 162 Main St.

Under the umbrella of A Little Compassion, Inc., the coffee shop employs individuals with autism, intellectual and development disabilities.

When the new space is completed, in mid-March, some 400-square-feet of the total 700-square-foot space will be dedicated to Nest Gatherings, with offices occupying the remaining area. This is twice the space that they utilize now.

A sliding barn door will connect it to the existing café.

The expansion will allow more people to enjoy get togethers for games, trivia, open mic nights and painting and drawing.

“There’s so much to be done and there’s so much more we could do, but this is our thing,” said Jane Moen, executive director of A Little Compassion, Inc. and The Nest Coffee Shop. “I can provide this.”

Within the shop there is the Possibilities Boutique, with artwork handmade by employees for sale, in addition to a combined dining area and spot for Nest Gatherings.

Patrons can enjoy their enjoy lattes, homemade sandwiches, smoothies, ice cream and baked goods, perusing the retail boutique or relaxing in the dining area.

The Gatherings program precedes the coffee shop.

“We knew that that was a huge need,” said Moen. “That idea of belonging and feeling like you fit in and finding friends. It’s such a lonely thing, especially when you get out of high school.”

“High school provides a lot of programming, but once you get past that, they refer to that as ‘falling off the service cliff,” she said.

When the program first started, Moen recalls six to eight people attending. That has increased to 15-20 and expected to rise, with the expanded space, to 25 attendees.

“We’re never going to try to get bigger than that for our social programs because the whole point is to have it be sensory friendly and comfortable,” said Moen.

These events are open to the whole community and free of charge.

Grant funding comes from The Community Foundation of Middlesex County, American Savings Foundation, Liberty Bank and NBC Connecticut.

“It’s for anybody who’s looking for that soft place to land with likeminded folks,” she said.

“So, anybody can come, but they have to agree that it’s a non-judgmental, accepting space,” she said.

The front of the shop is dedicated to the display of handmade artwork.

“This, to me, is a way of fulfilling our mission,” said Moen, standing in the middle of the boutique.

She said this endeavor is the silver lining of COVID.

“Everything had to be takeout when we finally reopened,” said Moen. “So, I would come out here every day and I would just start to cry.”

“The whole point was to gather people together, and we couldn’t, it gives me goosebumps, we couldn’t do it,” she said.

Brian Cunningham, with his wife, Kelly and daughter, Molly, was visiting the café for the first time and enjoying the whole vibe.

“Anytime a place brings in persons of special needs, gives them opportunity to work and then has caring and compassionate people around them, for me it makes me feel better about the place that I can go to,” said the Hebron resident. “It would make me come back.”

Murray Newton creates scroll sawing artwork.

“I make wood puzzles and I’ve been doing this, this is a hobby, for maybe 36 years,” he said, holding a paint roller as he took a break from applying white paint to the ceiling.

The 56-year-old Deep River resident was happy to be helping to prepare the new area.

“It’s part of giving back. She’s been so good to me, I wanted to help as much as I can,” he said, standing next to Moen.

Working alongside Newton was Donna Krell, employee Aaron Krell’s mother.

She is grateful to have her son working at The Nest.

“It definitely builds confidence and he’s grown in the way that’s he’s able to take feedback from a boss and learn how to work cooperatively with others,” she said of her 28-year-old son with autism.

Aaron Krell sells his hand-colored bird cards at the boutique and is also solely responsible for making Doggie Barks, cookie treats for four-legged friends.

When the expansion is complete, a corner of the café’s kitchen will be outfitted with two new ovens and be designated for this project.

The treats have four ingredients including “spent grains,” peanut butter, flour and eggs.

The spent grains, a byproduct of the beer brewing process, are donated by Little House Brewing Company, Chester; High Nine Brewing, Deep River and Surfridge Brewing Company, Essex.

The process for making the Doggie Barks is labor-intensive.

“You mix it up, you spread it out on these big sheet pans, you put them in the oven for a half hour, you take them out, cut them into triangles and then they have to go back in the oven for another two hours,” Moen said. “So, it takes the whole kitchen and Aaron likes his space.”

In addition to The Nest, the treats are sold locally at Cilantros Food Specialty, Guilford; Animal Hospital of Old Saybrook, Foodworks and Pasta Vita, Old Saybrook; Adams Hometown Market, Deep River and East Lyme; Pet’s Choice, and Deep River Hardware, Deep River; Coffees Country Market and Catering, Old Lyme; Simon’s Marketplace, Chester Market, Chester Veterinary Clinic, Little House Brewing Company and The Wayfinder Society, Chester; Surfridge Brewing Company and Gracie’s Corner, Essex; River Valley Provisions, Haddam and Montville Florist , Montville.

The designated Doggie Barks kitchen has been made possible with a grant from the Department on Disability Services.

“It’s wonderful, it’s a safe space for him to be and to grow,” Donna Krell said. “It’s a community for him to belong to, which is really important.”

Sam Wollschleager makes sandalwood, lavender and coconut scented melt and pour soaps for the boutique.

“Soap is fun,” said Sam Wollschleager. “Me and mom had done it for, I think, eight years.”

He also attends The Gatherings. His favorite event is woodworking.

“I love working with wood and, two, I also did wood shop in high school,” he said, referring to his days at Valley Regional High School.

Kim Wollschleager, worked alongside her son, Sam, who has Down Syndrome. She is grateful for The Nest and all its offerings.

“It’s just a place to belong,” she said. “It’s a place with respect.”

“He’s making friends here, that means a lot,” she said. “To come here and have friends to talk to is great.”

“He came home awfully excited the first time he did bingo,” she said. “It was wonderful. I want him to be independent, too.”

Sam Wollschleager beamed as he talked about working on the new space.

“It actually makes me feel a lot better,” he said, “and, two, it’s almost getting done.”

The Nest Coffee House, 162 Main St., Deep River, 860-322-3090;,; Facebook The Nest Coffee House; Instagram Nest Coffee House.