Local businesses continue to play an important role in today’s society, despite the surge of global brands on the high street. Indeed, those smaller organizations can offer more job opportunities and spark an economic growth in their respective communities. With that in mind, one such company can be found in Denver, Colorado.
Pizzability is a local restaurant with a difference, as all of the employees are disabled in some way. The business itself tries to encourage these individuals to work around their respective disorders, preparing them for other opportunities in the future. And given the owner’s background, that particular mindset isn’t too surprising.
Tiffany Fixter used to ply her trade as a teacher, focusing on special needs students. Off the back of that experience, she then wanted to help older people with disabilities. From there, Fixter transitioned into the business world, as she planned to create a company that offered jobs for the disabled.
On that note Pizzability was born, opening its doors in Cherry Creek, Denver. However, not everyone in the local community has appreciated Fixter’s admirable efforts, as some people mocked the restaurant’s staff. After hearing about that, CBS4 reporter Tori Mason decided to fire back on social media in July 2019.
For many people across the world, there are few things better than tucking into their favorite food dish. Indeed, from pasta to noodles, these tasty meals can either be prepared at home or consumed in local restaurants. But of all the different foodstuffs, one popular choice continues to stand out.
In the United States, pizza is now considered as one of the country’s most favored meals, as proved by a fascinating statistic. Back in February 2014 a research paper by What We Eat In America revealed that 13 percent of the populace would eat the dish “on any given day.” The interesting figures didn’t end there, though.
After sharing that percentage, the report then broke the numbers down even further. It read, “About one in eight Americans consumed pizza on any given day. More than one in four males, aged six to 19 years, consumed pizza on a day. On the day consumed, pizza provided about [a quarter] of their total daily energy.”
While those figures were certainly eye-opening, pizza has been a staple in the American diet for a number of decades now. According to the Pizza Hall of Fame, Lombardi’s was the first specialized restaurant to serve the dish in New York City back in 1905. And following that significant moment, more establishments started to open up across the country.
During that time, the Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana chain was created, some 20 years after Lombardi’s first opened its doors. From there, two more restaurant chains arrived on the scene at the back-end of the 1920s. However, it would be another three decades before the tasty dish really took off.
Indeed, Cassano’s Pizza King joined the fray in 1953, kicking off an incredible period in the restaurant business. At that point, close to 20 other pizza chains opened up in the U.S. over the next six years. Pizza Hut was one of them, as the famous brand established itself in 1958.
Off the back of those hectic few years, more pizzeria chains started to crop up across the country. The likes of Papa John’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Domino’s Pizza all arrived on the scene during that time. As a result of that, people now have a huge range of choices when it comes to buying their favorite pizzas.
Outside of the famous restaurant chains, though, there are still local pizzerias serving the dish. With that in mind, a new establishment opened its doors back in 2018. Located in the Cherry Creek area of Denver, Pizzability offered an intriguing alternative to residents looking for a bite to eat.
In May 2019 the restaurant’s founder Tiffany Fixter revealed a bit more about her business during an interview with Thedenverchannel.com. She explained, “Everybody on my staff has an intellectual or developmental disability. We have people that are blind and deaf. They have autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy.”
For her part, Fixter taught special needs students at school before moving into the business world. Following that period in her career, she then decided to branch out even further in 2016. At that stage, the former educator looked to help older disabled people in their quest to attain certain social skills.
Later that year, Fixter opened up her first local business named the Brewability Lab in Denver. Much like Pizzability, this establishment boasted a staff full of disabled people, receiving guidance from the owner. Thanks to her, these individuals were entrusted to perform important tasks around the bar, improving their life skills along the way.
“Sometimes you have to look back at where [my employees] started and now where they’re at,” Fixter told CBS4 in November 2017. “Their skill sets are skyrocketing.” From there, the founder then offered a bit more insight into the running of everyday operations, touching upon one point in particular.
Fixter added, “Everything is color-coded so you don’t have to be a reader to work for me. We have a couple that are readers and a couple that aren’t. So everyone’s different.” Since then, the local bar went from strength to strength, as proved by some impressive numbers on social media.
Amazingly, the Brewability Lab’s Facebook page has earned over 6,000 likes and close to 6,500 followers in that time. Alongside that, the business also notched up more than 400 recommendations on the social media website. Following that success, Fixter decided to push the boat out again in 2018 with Pizzability.
A few months after establishing the pizza restaurant, Fixter explained why she wanted to open up another business in the area. As it turned out, the Brewability Lab was being inundated with applications from local disabled residents. She revealed to CBS4 in January 2019, “I had a huge waiting list.”
Fixter continued, “I mean I only have six staff at the brewery and I couldn’t really have any more. So I just wanted to find another outlet.” Meanwhile, the former teacher also spoke about the working conditions at the pizzeria, given the disabilities that some of her employees have to contend with.
“We turned my office into a sensory room,” Fixter told CBS4. “So if [my employees] do need a break or I see that they’re overwhelmed, they have that outlet to go calm down and then refocus and get back to work.” The owner’s efforts didn’t end there, though.
In addition to the sensory room, Fixter posted a list of instructions for her staff to follow as well. She added, “We do have a ‘ready to work’ checklist which just helps them be more independent and focus on the fact that they are ready for work.” Away from that, the Denver resident then switched her focus to Pizzability’s customers.
According to Fixter, the restaurant played an important role in bringing people together, regardless of their situation. The entrepreneur continued, “I think that some families that have children with special needs don’t feel like they can go out to eat. And they’re worried that maybe they’ll have a meltdown or they’ll be looked at, [but] that’s not the case here.”
“We’ll cut up their food or blend it if they need to, and we just have something for everybody,” Fixter concluded. “If you have an aging parent, we have weighted silverware. We just want everyone to feel welcome.” However, a few months on from that interview, the founder voiced some concerns about the business itself.
While Pizzability was clearly having a positive effect in Denver, Fixter didn’t believe that it was making enough money to survive. On that note, she feared for the restaurant’s long-term future ahead of the summer of 2019. According to her, it was in a similar position to some other local establishments.
“I think the location is great,” Fixter told Thedenverchannel.com in May 2019. “We have a lot of foot traffic. People think we’re really successful and that’s great. But, I don’t know if we’re going to make it. I think it’s not just me, it’s all small businesses. You have to get there. You have to support [them].”
With that in mind, everything changed in July 2019 as Fixter received plenty of support from the locals. Incredibly, the surge in business stemmed from a conversation that she had with CBS4’s Tori Mason. During their talk, the reporter was taken aback by one particular subject, which led her to make a Facebook post.
“Pizzability is a restaurant that hires workers with special needs,” Mason wrote on the social media website. “The owner tells me people stand outside and say they’re afraid to come in. People walk past and say, ‘That’s where the r****** work.’ The employees can hear them.” Her words didn’t end there, though.
Mason added, “I am heartbroken and disgusted, because this place is built on acceptance and love. Please give them your business and your tolerance. Don’t go because you feel bad, go because the pizza and the service is DARN GOOD.” And off the back of that powerful message, the reporter’s post generated a big response on Facebook.
Indeed, Mason’s words earned close to 6,000 likes and more than 6,000 shares, while also garnering over 1,400 comments. Most of those messages were very supportive of Fixter’s situation, hailing her work in Denver. Alongside that, a few users promised to follow the journalist’s request as well.
“My husband and I will be in tonight,” wrote one social media user in the comments section. “Coming to support a small business, our love for pizza and opportunities for our special needs community! Thanks Pizzability for giving them a chance and loving them!” Furthermore, another Facebook user also echoed those sentiments.
The person wrote, “I’ll pop in and buy a soda every time I work in the area. Everyone is so helpful and kind. I’ll always support this place and its employees!” Meanwhile, as Mason’s post continued to generate a lot of attention on Facebook, she then shared the same message on her Twitter account.
Once again, Mason’s words made a powerful impact, earning over 6,000 likes and more than 4,500 retweets. Thanks to that big response, customers flooded into Fixter’s establishment over the next few days, which eased her previous worries. According to the owner, Pizzability hadn’t seen numbers like it before.
“It’s one thing to like and share [Mason’s social media posts],” Fixter told CBS4 in July 2019. “It’s another thing for the entire community to actually come out and get in their cars and come here and eat. There’s days where we sell two slices of pizza. We’ve never been so busy. I’m exhausted, but it’s great.”
At that point, Fixter looked back on her initial conversation with Mason prior to the boost in business. While the reporter only touched upon some of the issues, she felt the need to go a little deeper. Unfortunately for her employees, the hurtful comments varied from person to person.
Fixter added, “People have said some really derogatory things [about the staff]. ‘Put the people with disabilities in the back. Put their wheelchairs outside,’ [they’ve even said] the ‘r-word.’ I guess some people are scared of what they don’t understand.” And one customer in particular could definitely relate to that, as they visited the restaurant during that time.
Mandy Gordy is the mother of two disabled children, and she recognized some of the language used in Mason’s social media post. So she took her family to Pizzability to show their support, but the hurtful words clearly left an impact on her. As Gordy shared her thoughts, she then made an interesting point.
“It made me sick to my stomach because that stuff does exist,” Gordy told CBS4. “We were actually at a restaurant one time feeding our son through his feeding tube. And this guy sat down with his french toast and saw my son’s feeding tube. He then said, ‘Thanks a lot, I lost my appetite,’ and threw his food away.”
Following that shocking revelation, Gordy had one more thing to say on the matter during her interview. She added, “We face that kind of discrimination a lot. People whisper and people talk, and it’s mainly adults! The kids are more accepting of our children than the adults are. It’s just mind-blowing.”
As for Fixter, she took on the abusers in an intriguing way, inviting them back to the pizzeria. The founder concluded, “I hope they come in and give us a shot. I mean, we sell beer and pizza!” Off the back of those hectic few days, Pizzability now boasts over 4,500 followers on Facebook.