‘Everybody has a place here’: Englewood’s Brewability makes space for work — and play — for people with disabilities

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Bartenders Julian Trunfio, center, and Tony Saponaro, right, take orders from patrons at Brewability on Broadway in Englewood on Friday evening, Aug. 26, 2022. With the exception of a few key personnel, most of Brewability’s staff are differently abled. On this particular evening, members of the local chapter for the National Federation of the Blind were having a group gathering there.

Brewability is a brewery and pizzeria in a busy location that fits in easily among the other spots in the busy downtown Englewood area. But, one distinguishing aspect is that Brewabiltiy is designed to be inclusive for patrons and the staff of adults with disabilities. 

On a recent busy Saturday evening, the aroma of fresh pizza, the buzz of the crowd, and the band warming up before their first set didn’t keep the staff from being both friendly and efficient. 

Stephanie has worked here for two years. 

“I work. I clean the table. I pour beer, I talk to people, and I help with the orders too, like take orders for beer and pizza and slushes,” she said. 

In addition to working behind the bar and his other duties, Michael shares some unique talents. 

“I like to entertain people, especially my boss, with impressions like Cookie Monster and Electro Mayhem from the special rock band called Dr. Teeth in the Electric Mayhem, the Muppets and Disney characters and stuff like that.” 

Just inside the door in the game area and sensory room, right beside the giant Lite-Brite, a family on their first visit to Brewability shared how meaningful the business is to them. 

“You know, a friend of a friend had talked about coming here for an event, a fundraiser. And I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool.’ It's really exciting to know that there's places like this.” 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Nate Hecker from the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, at the Brewability bar on Broadway in Englewood, Friday evening, Aug. 26, 2022.

Marci, who didn’t want to give her last name to protect her children, has three lovely daughters, Kaylee, Reagan, and Makenna. 

This evening was more than a family dinner out for them; mom and dad wanted to see the possibility that Brewabiltiy represents for themselves. 

“And everybody has to have something to look forward to for their future. And this is an exciting thing to have to look forward to,” Marci said. “So McKenna is 9 years old and has Down syndrome. So that's the exciting part. And this place is awesome. The food's great. The beer is delicious and the game room is really, really cool. And just the accessibility for everyone, whether it be in a patron sense or in a professional sense, everybody has a place here, which is super exciting.”

Marci said a place like this means more than a nice place to go out with her family. 

“It's a different idea of the future than the supermarket or the traditional places that you have seen. It just gives a new light and a new excitement. And it's nice to see everyone here has a job and is important and has the ability to succeed. Because that's not everywhere in our world right now."

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Brewability founder and owner Tiffany Fixter talks to a customer on Friday evening, Aug. 26, 2022.

Owner Tiffany Fixter began the popular venue six years ago at another location, but when the opportunity to purchase this building on South Broadway came up three years ago, it meant expansion and stability were within reach. Fixter credits the support of her parents, and her mother in particular. 

“My parents have been extremely supportive, so my mom actually sold her dream business for me.” 

Cinnamon's Bakery in Estes Park was her mother’s dream business.

“I'm just grateful that they were able to support my dream, and help us purchase the building so that we have, we have a forever home now. You know, we started in northeast Denver and Montbello and a garage in the middle of nowhere. It was really hard to find, and it really wasn't very accessible,” Fixter said. “It was the only place we could afford to start. And then we had Pizzability in Cherry Creek, but I was leasing both places and we lost the leases. And so, if we hadn't purchased this building … we would've been displaced again. So I think it was just really meant to be.”

The new location allowed Fixter to serve the people around her: It’s down the street from both Craig Hospital, with a leading brain injury and spinal cord treatment center, as well as the Colorado Center for the Blind. Fixter said her dream started as a special ed teacher. When she realized that many people with disabilities couldn’t find employment when they turn 21, she decided to help.

“I couldn't go back to teaching, knowing that they're gonna grow up and just be stuck. And so I wanted to provide employment for people that really need it,” she said. “Almost everyone on my staff has been deemed unemployable by the state of Colorado. So they were sat down and told they could not work because they need too much help. And that's just, shouldn't be the case.” 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Brewmaster Tanner Schneller at Brewability on Broadway in Englewood on Friday evening, Aug. 26, 2022.

As more people venture out for fun and entertainment as the pandemic eases, Fixter continues to enhance the inclusive experience at Brewability by adding a new vibrating dance floor.

“It's bone conduction technology. So it goes straight through your bones, kind of works like hearing aids,” Fixter said. “So what they used to have are these packs that you can wear, but this way everyone can experience it, whether they're deaf, hard of hearing, or if they just need that extra sensory input. It's been really cool to watch kids that have never experienced music before feel it for the first time. It's amazing.”

Brewability created the floor with a Colorado company called Feel The Beat. It was installed through the basement into the joists of the floor with six different transducers underneath. 

“It's actually the same technology that is in the Star Wars exhibit at Disney,” Fixter said. “It just adds an extra element. We wanna make sure that everyone can access everything that we do. And music is such a large part of our brewery.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The beer taps at Brewability on Broadway in Englewood are color-coded, and also have Braille labels, to help bartenders who are blind. Friday evening, Aug. 26, 2022.

All the extra elements that make it a fun spot to visit also give Marci a glimpse of something special for her daughter’s future.  

“It's our first time. So it's a little … overwhelming in a good way. Just because you do get to see a different future for your child than you thought of in the past, you know, because we're raising her for an independent life, and we have the skills in place that we're building. But it's exciting to see somewhere that they would actually be able to be really used, you know.”

Fixter said Brewabilty has a message for everyone, including lessons for other restaurateurs. 

“You know, just support your local businesses. You've gotta support the people that you believe in, and get out there because it's gonna be tough the next couple years. I know restaurants are struggling to find staff,” she said. “If you own a restaurant and you're listening to this, please consider hiring someone with a disability. They're loyal workers. I have no turnover. I have a waiting list of 300 to work here. So it's an untapped resource, and I really hope that people would consider it.”

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