This nonprofit eatery in Willard—the brainchild of a retired family and consumer sciences teacher—serves up delicious meals and beverages while providing job training and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

For Melissa Skaggs, former educator for the Willard R-II School District, retirement doesn’t mean rest. It means putting in twelve-hour days, sometimes seven days a week, bringing to fruition a dream that started thirty-two years ago when she began her career as a public school educator.

Daniel Vizena, an employee at The Hive, pours beans into the coffee grinder as part of his designated responsibilities at the nonprofit restaurant. Photo—Sheila Harris

“During my years as a FACS [family and consumer sciences] teacher and fifth and sixth grade counselor, I watched the interaction among my students and saw how those with typical abilities naturally offered support to those with differing abilities,” Melissa says. “I wanted to carry that model over into a practical work environment that would provide job skills to those with differing abilities.”

Her dream has become The Hive, a.k.a Hive of the Ozarks, a cafe-style eatery in Willard that operates on a nonprofit business model. Its charitable mission is to provide young adults with differing abilities the opportunity to learn food service skills alongside their typically developing peers.

The Hive’s seven-person board of directors, with Melissa at the helm as president, met for the first time in November 2019. Monthly meetings followed and consisted of creating plans for attracting community awareness, grant-writing, fundraising, location, and menu, among other things.

“We visited other restaurants with a similar business model to get ideas of how to move forward,” Melissa says.

In June 2020, the board secured space in Willard’s East Center, and Melissa began the work of redecorating it and fitting it for restaurant service. The result is a cozy eatery furnished with repurposed vintage pieces, plenty of live greenery, and an eye-catching honeycomb mural that was donated by a community member.

“We have lots of volunteer labor and monetary donations,” Melissa says. The Hive’s breakfast and lunch menus include smoothies, pastries, coffee drinks, crafted sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts.

The Hive can also fill special orders for events. The creations of local crafters, artists, and beekeepers are offered for sale at The Hive. The business hosts classes of interest to the community on Friday nights, and the venue itself is available for event rental. The cafe will continue to rely on the goodwill of the community.

The labor cost is higher than is typical, Melissa says, because the training and staffing requirements exceed that of a standard restaurant. The Hive opened with a paid staff of eight employees with differing abilities and eight with typical ones. It’s a ratio Melissa hopes to maintain.

Overhead beams, repurposed vintage furniture, and live greenery provide rustic charm inside The Hive. Photo—Sheila Harris

“I’m so proud of the way the employees are working together,” Melissa says. “They’ve been designating labor and figuring out how to divide the tips without me even telling them to.” Melissa is committed to maintaining a happy environment for Hive employees, which contributes to the restaurant’s ambience of warmth and welcome.

The Hive is located at 304 E. Jackson St., Suite 5E, in Willard. Keep up with the business on Facebook at Hive of the Ozarks.

Willard is located in Greene County, 12 miles northwest of Springfield, 160 miles south of Kansas City, 220 miles southwest of St. Louis, and 170 miles southwest of Columbia.