A Colorado pizza parlor that employs and empowers staff with special needs recently relocated to Englewood, and the downtown public has welcomed them with open arms.
Tiffany Fixter opened Pizzability in Denver and a partner project, Brewability, in 2016. Sadly, it wasn't long before pizza parlor staff fell victim to a spate of bullying and financial struggle. Despite the hardships, the dedicated team never gave up and is prepared to take any challenge head-on.
Speaking to The Epoch Times by email, Tiffany shared the highs and lows of 12 extraordinary months in the pizza-making business and about their thoughtful future plans to make a positive difference in their new location.
"I am a former special education teacher," Tiffany said. "I switched to a job where I was a day program director. It was there I found out the severe lack of employment among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I decided a brewery would be a great place for the entire community to interact."
"I started Pizzability in the heart of a very affluent area," Tiffany said. "People would say things to our staff that I couldn’t believe. We were only there one year before having to move."
If a customer was rude, Tiffany would attempt to pull them aside and gently explain the differences or limitations of her staff, owing to their various disabilities. Tips, high-fives, positive interactions, and a relaxing sensory space in the office provided respite for Tiffany's staff in the event of a difficult encounter with any customer.
However, the support dwindled just as quickly as it had arrived. Tiffany said that going viral does not ensure success. In December 2019, Pizzability received notification that its funding would not be renewed for 2020; the parlor's sales were simply too low. Luckily, Bob and Carole Fixter, Tiffany's parents, provided financial backing for the merging of Pizzability with Tiffany's partner project, Brewability, in downtown Englewood.
"When one door closed," Tiffany said, "another was opened for us."
The new neighborhood comprises a mixed culture, Tiffany said. Two hospitals and a school for visually impaired students are located nearby, as well as accessible public transport links. To date, the new clientele has been far more receptive to what Pizzability has to offer, and far kinder to Tiffany's hardworking staff.
"It really is a calming, beautiful experience for everyone," Tiffany said. "We also have had successful events like Braille and Low-vision BINGO as a fundraiser for a local chapter of the Federation of the Blind."
Occasionally, staff will encounter a new customer who appears to be out of their comfort zone. However, Tiffany expressed hope that the loyal staff, thoughtful resources, and inclusivity agenda could help alter people's perspectives on disability for the better.
"I believe we have a chance to educate the public on the strengths and skill-sets that my staff bring to the table," Tiffany said.
One customer that left Brewability having had a hugely rewarding experience was a woman named Kara, who has autism, and her mother. Kara's mother, Julie, shared her thoughts on their visit with Tiffany.
"Miss Kara has been very antisocial with outings," Julie said, according to Tiffany, "refusing to get out of the car 99 percent of the time." On this occasion, however, Kara came inside.
"What a great choice she made," Julie said. "She was greeted by people who get it. Offered chip options, soda, bucket of sensory items, bubbles, weighted blanket in a couch space, and all in a sensory-thoughtful space."
Tiffany said that all her loyal staff want to do is work. "Small businesses really rely on consistent, loyal customers," she said. "Please support small businesses when you can."
"Most of my employees fall in the low-immune category," Tiffany said. "It is a strange time in our world, but hopefully we will slow down a bit and all come out of this with compassion for our neighbors, a renewed strength within ourselves, and our economy will bounce back."