Brew pub, pizzeria finds ready workforce in people with disabilities

Brewability is a Colorado brew pub and pizzeria. What set the pizzeria apart from others in the industry is its employees: Brewability hires those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Learn how color coding, pictures and other tools help both customers and staff.

Pizzerias across the country look for a point of differentiation. Sure, the food can be set you apart in a crowded field, but is that enough? For Englewood, Colorado-based Brewability, its differentiating factor is what makes the brewery and pizzeria special — it hires workers with disabilities to run just about every aspect of the business.

A former special education teacher who also ran an adult day program, Owner Tiffany Fixter saw a lack of employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so she saw an opportunity and she took it, opening a brewery and pizzeria that employs around 25 people with disabilities.

Tiffany Fixter owns Brewability, a brew pub and pizzeria that employs those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Of course, pizza goes really well with beer,” she said. “It seemed like pizza — it can be complicated to make but simple enough to structure for someone with a disability. We actually have picture-based structures that show exactly what ingredients measuring to put on each pizza and we have a color-coded system to make sure they put the right amount on. So, I’ve structured my kitchen like a classroom.”

That includes visual aids everywhere showing how to make recipes.

Her employees’ disabilities range from Autism and Down’s Syndrome to deafness and blindness.

Guests order at the bar and are given a number before their food comes out of the kitchen. Dough is made in-house using the spent grain — the malt after a brewery has already used the grain to make beer.

“It’s actually really great for baking,” Fixter said, “so we collect a couple of buckets a week of that before sending it out to the farmers. Spent grain is what makes our pizza dough unique.”

The employees add a touch of sweetness to the dough through the use of agave due to the allergens found in honey, and the dough uses no egg. Other dough options include gluten free, cauliflower and a crustless skillet option.

“We want to have a variety of options for our customers who have a variety of dietary needs. With autism specifically a lot of people are on a gluten-free, casein-free diet,” Fixter said. “Then there’s a personal choice of being Keto or carb-conscious.”

People have a lot of different needs, and Brewability is there for them. Finding a good vegan cheese has been difficult, and Brewability uses Follow Your Heart cheese. Fixter said she has a friend who’s a food who’s working on a vegan cheese scientist that tastes good and melts, “which is huge for the pizza community,” Fixter added.

A pesto pizza using house-made pesto is a customer favorite, as is the ability to create a half-and-half pizza – any two menued pizzas combined on the same crust. It’s another flexible offering at Brewability, which thrives on giving the customer plenty of choices.

The green chile chicken pizza is also popular, which uses a local green chile sauce and includes mozzarella, chicken, fresh jalapeños, diced green pepper, red onion and a Southwestern corn mix.

Brewability uses two rotating gas stone ovens that bake at 750 degrees to make it easier and safer for the employees.

“That wide mouth and the rotating feature really helps our staff because you’re not having to constantly paddle at it,” Fixter said, referring to deck ovens that require pizza to be turned and rotated using a pizza paddle.

When asked what’s she’s learned from opening her own business, Fixter said she’s had to learn to be tough. People are critical when it comes to food and there are a lot of different factors that have to be considered when creating a menu. The pizzeria uses a lot of local ingredients — for example the jalapeno popper pizza has a raspberry jalapeño jam that’s made by another program for adults with disabilities.

While hiring and retention remains a top challenge for most restaurants, it’s not a problem at Brewability, where Fixter said she has a waiting list of hundreds of potential employees.

“I have very little turnover,” she added. “The people that we employ are very loyal. They love coming in to work. They’re happy. Once you have the structures in place and they know what they’re doing, it runs like a well-oiled machine. that I have too may people who want to work for me.”

Fixter is working on building an online course and a franchise structure to help restaurateurs employ adults with disabilities, which she calls an “untapped market.”

“I think it’s really great to showcase to the community directly they’re willing and able to work and that they can do it extremely well,” she added. “There are some customers who don’t have experience with customers with disabilities. You have to prove to them that we are clean and safe and running our restaurant properly. People with disabilities are more sanitary than other people. It’s just getting over the misconceptions in the food industry.”

All employees wear gloves, aprons and hats. There’s an automatic hand-washing station where the water comes out at the right temperature for the right amount of time. The POS system is picture-based as well. Fixter tries to make it so easy that the process can’t be missed.

For guests, there’s a sensory area with noise-canceling headphones on the wall for both children and adults and a variety of seating options like extra padding for aging guests. The beers are color coded for the employees and signs with sign language coordinate with those colors. There are pictures describing the flavors of the menu items for guests who can’t read, and the pizza menu comes in Braille, a larger-menu format and a picture version. Weighted silverware, various cups and knives, and shirt protectors are available for guests. Brewability is also adding a vibrating dance floor through a non-profit called Feel the Beat.

“It’s a new technology that goes up through your bones and hits the back of your ear,” Fixter said. The technology plugs into the house music and live bands so that customers who need additional sensory input or who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy the music.

Fixter offers some tips for helping operators make their restaurants more inclusive to those with disabilities:

  • Entrances/Exits: Can access with ramp, flat surface or elevator; have an automatic door, ADA button or door wedge; have an accessible stage; flatten thresholds if necessary.
  • Flooring: Smooth and flat with no rugs; variation in flooring can indicate a new space like a bathroom to someone who is visually impaired. You can also add tactile floor stripping.
  • Lighting: avoid fluorescent, harsh, abrasive or bright lighting; utilize LED, placed in a variety of areas to disperse lumens (mirrors, overhead, under counter).
  • Bathrooms: Have at least one ADA restroom with room for a person with a disability, their wheelchair and an attendant; paper towels and soap within reach of the sink from someone who uses a chair; paper towels as an alternative to a hand dryer for people with sensory sensitivity/autism; open/unlocked toilet paper dispenser and paper towel dispensers for easy access; canted mirrors or mirrors low enough for people who use wheelchairs to see themselves; textured flooring with wide grout for better grip; no step trash cans.
  • Tables: use round tables for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals to communicate effectively while having easy visibility of everyone’s lips and hands; low top tables for people who use wheelchairs; deep seated cushioning for people with sensory sensitivity in a quiet area.
  • Menus: Braille, large print, one with a dyslexic font and a picture-based option.

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