by Krystal Covington, MBA
While delivering magazines to one our members in Cherry Creek, I found myself lost, knocking on a door, not realizing that Vive+ wasn’t open that day. In my haste to find an entry, I mistakenly opened the door to a restaurant that was under construction with someone busily working inside.
Quickly throwing the door closed while attempting to run from the scene of my mistake, I tried to get down the block, and was called back. Tiffany Fixter, the owner of Brewability Lab, was inside preparing for the grand opening of her new venture, Pizzability, and wanted to see how she could help.
Tiffany greeted me with warmth, confirmed that she knew who I was and was familiar with the magazine. After offering to take the delivery off my hands, she provided me a tour of her new restaurant, sharing the innovative strategies she’d implemented to create a supportive environment for both patrons and staff.
While I’d heard of Brewability and had the location on my list for a possible Women of Denver event, I hadn’t actually visited yet and knew little about its social enterprise mission. Through Tiffany’s tour, I was astounded to find that her businesses are run by adults with disabilities ranging from autism to blindness -- a population often believed to be unhirable. Through her background in special education, Tiffany became familiar with the tactics required to engage and support those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In both of her businesses she’s created systems that allow her team to work effectively using tools specially designed to allow them to provide services independently.
I’ll have to be honest in saying that I’m truly in awe of the uniqueness of her endeavor, and as a lifelong volunteer and “giver” I admire a woman who creates pathways to help others achieve. Even more inspiring were the responses Tiffany provided to the questions I asked in our interview. I believe deeply in the power of authenticity when it comes to women supporting each other. If we’re not honest about our journeys, challenges, and needs we can’t learn from each other or help one another.
Tiffany is generous with what she shares, providing incredible insight for those desiring to follow in her footsteps. While knowing someone else’s journey can’t save us from mistakes, it can certainly help us navigate with a bit more confidence that we can tackle anything that comes our way. To follow are a few highlights of the Q&A I had with Tiffany and the wisdom she shares.
WOD. Social enterprise is a model I love to promote because it blends social impact into the typical profit model of business. What inspired you to start a social enterprise business?
TF. As a former teacher and day program director, I knew I wanted to create employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Craft beer is a hot industry in Denver and I wanted to combine my passions together: hence, I created Brewability Lab and now Pizzability. I wanted to do a social enterprise because I think it is important for customers to know this is a real business. We are not here for pity. We want to be a part of the community, but in order to thrive, we must have customers.
WOD. What are a few examples of things your restaurants do to provide a venue conducive to helping differently abled individuals?
TF. Our menu and point of sale are visual, which makes ordering easy for our staff as well as our customers who are non or low-level readers. We built a sensory wall which includes a light-changing bubble wall, marble panel, wiggle seats, noise canceling headphones, fidgets and more. These adaptive items are free to use while dining or working within Pizzability. We also have adaptive dining items available to staff and customers to make dining out more accessible for children and adults who need those accommodations. We have weighted silverware, bendable silverware, adaptive cups, plate guards, EZPZ mats, etc. We also cut up and blend food on request.
WOD. Is Brewability your first business? If not, what other businesses have you launched in the past?
TF. My first business was an iPhone app called “My Video Schedule.” It was a video based scheduling app which used video models and pictures to motivate and educate individuals with autism on daily living tasks. It is no longer on the market due to financial constraints with constant updates. I am not a developer, and each change was very expensive. Ultimately, larger educational apps copied the concept and I was unable to compete with the market.
WOD. How did you acquire the capital and other resources required to get started in business?
TF. I’ll be very honest. My credit score is terrible. I have been turned down by so many banks and loan officers, I couldn’t tell you how many “no’s” I’ve actually received. It is hard. It hurts. It is a constant struggle. When I decided to do the brewery, I wanted to trial the idea by doing a Kickstarter to see if the community would support it. We were able to raise $34,000, but unfortunately I did not start my business in the same fiscal year as the fundraiser so it all went back in taxes. Yet, I am very blessed. My parents own three businesses in Estes Park and were able to help me purchase the Brewery, formerly Caution Brewing Company, that I found on the market as a turn-key.