Brewing Beer and Changing Lives
Denver has over 75 breweries, making it a top craft beer destination. Tiffany Fixter, a special education teacher, thought the city needed a location that would do more than just brew great beer - it should also serve an important social mission,
Fixter’s brewery, Brewability Lab, opened in 2016, employs mostly adults with development disabilities. The idea is to give the adults with disabilities on-the-job training and a place to socialize with other workers and customers. Fixter, who moved to Denver to run an adult day program for people with special needs, said there are few options for meaningful work for people with development disabilities after they turn 21. “I wanted to create jobs where they could make something people actually want,” she said.
Brewability employs six men with various development disabilities. They are all in their 20s. One is blind. One is deaf and the rest are on the autism spectrum. They are all supervised by a professional brewer. Fixter is hoping some of her workers learn enough that they can find work at other local breweries. The skills they learn brewing beer can also help with other jobs in the community, she said. “I really like being involved in different aspects of makng beer and like interacting with people one on one,” said Tony Saponaro, a Brewability employee.
While the business has a taproom and has similar appearances to other breweries, there are some subtle differences. For instance, customers place their order by choosing a color on the menu that goes with each beer to make it easier on the staff. For instance, yellow is the hefeweizen and white is the pale ale. The tap handles are also color coded and the menus are available in braille. “I try to set it up so our staff will be successful even if they are a nonreaders,” Fixter said. The two assistant brewers are able to read so they can take instructions from the head brewer and learn the recipes. The strawberry blond is its most popular brew as it uses 100 pounds of frozen strawberries in the 10 bbl. system.
Fixter said many regular customers come in to interact with her staff. “They all have fan clubs,” she said. The staff typically works about 20 hours a week and since they started, she can already see a difference in their personalities. “Everyone is really confident, more social and outgoing,” she said.
She said her employees’ positive attitude has been a huge help for her and uplifts their customers. “You can’t be in a bad mood at our brewery,” she said.“This brewery gives them an opportunity more than just bagging groceries,” Fixter said. ”Inclusivity is very important.”
Brewability Lab has a wait list of people eager to work there. The brewery interacts with the community in other ways, too hosting events like dog adoptions, birthday parties and fundraisers The biggest challenge at Brewability has proven not to be training her staff but getting customers to find them inside a small industrial park, Fixter said. “We are barely breaking even,” she said.
Another challenge is helping her employees with transportation since none of the ones with disabilities are able to drive. In the first year, she spent over $20,000 on Uber and Lyft car services. To gain more revenue, Fixter recently began working on the next chapter to help adults with development disabilities. And what goes great with beer is, of course, pizza. So she bought a local pizzeria and is staffing it with adults with disabilities. Its name? Pizzability.
Fixter hopes the pizza store that will open this summer will provide food to sell at the brewery as well as help her hire more people with disabilities. She received funding from the city of Denver for Pizzability and plans to hire up to 30 adults with disabilities. “I hope to be an example for other businesses to think outside the box,” she said. “...to see what people are capable of.”
Brewability is open Tuesday through Saturday from 3 pm to 9 pm at 12445 E. 39th Ave. #314. brewabilitylab.com.