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The moment Scott and Brandi Tavegia knew that their lives were forever changed was after they walked through the doors of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee’s grand opening in North Carolina.
The coffee shop, which now has 22 locations throughout the U.S., focuses on incorporating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the workforce by pairing those individuals with non-disabled workers.
That focus and commitment spoke to the Tavegias as they thought about the future for their son, Andrew, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth. And while the life of a barista wasn’t in the cards for Scott and Brandi, their passion for hiking and mini-golf would eventually lead them to the small rural Arkansas town of Mountain Home.
“After visiting their grand opening and being really involved in the Down Syndrome community, we recognized that individuals with a disability want to be included,” said Scott Tavegia. “They want to be a part of everyday life and make an impact just like everybody else. But they’re not always given that opportunity. So we talked about what we love to do. And we love mini-golf. Every time we go on vacation, we play mini-golf. We plan our vacations around hiking, zoos, and mini-golf.”
With a new direction in mind, Scott began drafting a business plan to open a mini-golf course. The Tavegias’ first opportunity to purchase a course would happen in their home state of Maryland in 2020.
While looking for property, the pair came across an abandoned course in their hometown. Sadly, the property owner refused to sell despite the Tavegias clearing all of the business hurdles in Maryland.
Their dream was put on hold.
“The gentleman that inherited the land refused to sell,” Scott Tavegia said. “At the time, I had investors that were local people that had influence, and this guy could care less. So, I put the dream away.”
The refusal to sell turned out to be a blessing in disguise after Maryland began shutting down businesses after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Scott and Brandi said the shutdown would have bankrupted them.
With their dream on hold and a pandemic raging, the couple focused on moving forward.
In May of 2021, they would visit the Mountain Home area for the first time while on vacation for their anniversary. While exploring the area, Scott and Brandi began to look at several properties before being informed about All About Fun, a closed mini-golf course off of Highway 5.
And just like that, the dream was alive again.
“I called a bank in town and started working with Jim and Vicky at Gilbert,” Scott Tavegia said. “We started hitting some roadblocks, and our prayer on the way back to Baltimore after our week of hiking was, God, open this door or slam the door shut. We don’t want anything lukewarm. We want to know if this is where you want us to be.”
Their prayers were answered when Arkansas State University – Mountain Home’s Kyle Davidson reached out to them. With Davidson’s help, the Tavegias were able to tailor their business plan to fit Mountain Home and get approval for their business.
They put a bid on the property and began the process of selling their own home in Maryland. By August of 2021, the Tavegias had moved in with Brandi’s mother while awaiting the finalization of the sale in Arkansas.
On Feb. 22 of this year, the sale was finalized, allowing the family to finish their move to Mountain Home. They named their new business Little T’s in honor of their son, Andrew.
“We’ve been doing yard work ever since,” said Brandi Tavegia.
And the Tavegias aren’t kidding about the yard work.
Little T’s Mini Golf & More rests on over three acres of land and sits directly across the street from Baxter Regional’s Wellness Education Center. With a full 18-hole zoo-themed course from Harris Miniature Golf Courses Inc., one of the world’s premier mini-golf course makers, Little T’s courses feature working streams, banked greens, rough turf, a footbridge, and a waterfall.
And while the bones of the course were solid, the Tavegias had their work cut out for them as they worked day and night to clean up the course and repair or rebuild anything that was damaged.
Over the past several months, they’ve installed several animal statues of tigers, elephants, and hippopotamuses that are scattered throughout the course. They’ve also worked on refurbishing the course’s main building. That building features a full ice cream shop, a working kitchen, and additional space to host birthday parties or meetings.
The ice cream shop and kitchen are expected to open in the near future. An outdoor area with several outdoor games like Jenga and cornhole is also planned for future expansions. The entire facility and course is ADA compliant.
“I identified quickly that this course was expertly designed by Harris Mini-Golf out of New Jersey,” Scott Tavegia said. “So, there are only four truly experienced mini-golf companies out there, and Harris is one of the four that are the best. This is one of their largest footprints. Typically their courses are on an acre and a half. This is over three acres.”
After Little T’s gets its legs underneath it and gets its ice cream shop open, the Tavegias said they would begin hiring high school and college students, along with those with special needs, in the hopes of spreading the experience that they saw at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee.
“Once we feel like we’ve got our feet under us and we’re doing good, we’re going to start to hire,” Scott Tavegia said. “We want to hire a mix. We want to hire individuals with either a physical or an intellectual disability, as well as college kids, high school kids. We believe there needs to be an integration. We want people to see that there’s value in everybody.”
Little T’s Mini Golf & More is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays are reserved for hiking!
Tickets to play cost $8 for ages 11-60 and $7 for children 5-10. Children four and under get in with their parents for free. For those “experienced kids” over 60, tickets will run $6. Veterans also pay $6 at the door. Additional rounds cost $4.
For more information on Little T’s Mini Golf & More, contact (870) 701-3066.