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FE&S 2023 Kitchen Storage Makeover Changing Lives One Pizza and Beer at a Time

FE&S Kitchen Storage Makeover contest winner Brewability gained organization and storage improvements at a facility with a unique operation model that puts inclusivity at the forefront.

Photos by Grant KesslerPhotos by Grant KesslerFrom the outside, Brewability in Englewood, Colo., looks like any other storefront pizza place and small brewery. But what can’t be seen from the outside is the fact that this place changes lives.

Brewability is the culmination of a dream for owner Tiffany Fixter. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo., went on to get a master’s in autism spectrum disorders from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., and taught for about 10 years in Kansas City, Mo. Fixter then moved to Colorado for what she termed her dream job — running a day program for people with physical or emotional challenges. That dream turned into a harsh reality when she saw that the people at the center were merely passing their days doing menial tasks such as coloring or stringing beads. Seeing this was “really sad…a lack of purpose,” Fixter says.

Frustrated for individuals with physical and emotional challenges and wanting more for them, Fixter began a training program at a local brewery for people with disabilities. “We started with a brewery because [the work] is really repetitive, and repetitive jobs work really well for people on the spectrum,” she says. Encouraged by the response from the public, she opened her own brewery, called Brewability, in northeast Denver in 2016. Two years later, the operation branched out into serving pizza.

A new expediting station is the last stop for pizzas before they go out to the customers.A new expediting station is the last stop for pizzas before they go out to the customers.The original site in Denver presented some problems in terms of accessibility for her customers, Fixter says. “We were on the lower level, so to be accessible, you had to roll up ramps and then take an elevator down.” In 2019 she acquired the current property in suburban Englewood. “We opened right before the pandemic,” Fixter says, laughing at her timing. Still, that less-than-optimal timing has not prevented Brewability from becoming successful.

Fixter currently heads a staff of 26 employees, about 90% of whom have some type of disability. Some of these crew members have sight or hearing issues; some have Down syndrome. Still others are on the autism spectrum or have autoimmune disorders. That wide range of issues makes training employees a major challenge. Training, she says, “is dependent on their learning style and their disability. Some people are fairly independent and just need check-ins, whereas others need a person with them, kind of one-on-one.”

The disability community has responded enthusiastically to Fixter’s operation. While labor continues to be a problem that almost every other restaurateur in the country faces, Brewability has a waiting list of 700 adults with disabilities who would like to work there (she currently employs 26), according to Fixter. And the bulk of Brewability’s customers have responded enthusiastically to finding a place that is so welcoming. Of course, there are always a few detractors. “Sometimes we’ll get reviews like, ‘Your bartenders are a little weird.’ Well, you miss the entire point of our place,” Fixter says.

Alex Randall reads the new Braille labels in the reconfigured storage room. Alex Randall reads the new Braille labels in the reconfigured storage room.

Getting Organized

With everything she has on her plate, Fixter confesses organization has not always been her strongest suit. “I know it’s extremely important because of the variety of staff [I have] with various disabilities,” she says. “Organization is huge for them to be able to be functional and do their job.” As the winner of this year’s FE&S Kitchen Storage Makeover contest, she was happy to get the chance to bring some organization and storage improvements to Brewability.

Zoomba Kessler 3632The makeover process began with an on-site visit by the makeover team to assess the space. The results of that assessment guided the design and specifications for new storage components and equipment to optimize the kitchen and other areas at Brewability.

The first area the makeover team tackled was the kitchen. Flour dust from the dough roller was creating a mess in the kitchen, so the makeover team moved the machine into a smaller, adjoining room where the mixer is also located, called the dough vault. The table the roller had been situated on was so small that an induction burner used to prep sauces and other items was kept underneath and staff pulled it out as necessary. A crew member would have to sit on a milk crate to monitor the cooking process. So that table was replaced with a larger worktable and under-table carts. The top of the worktable now holds smaller prep equipment, like the induction burner and a crepe maker. Not only do the carts underneath provide convenient storage, but the worktop can also function as an additional prep area as necessary.

Madison Sherock removes pizza boxes from a shelving unit placed in a hallway outside the kitchen.Madison Sherock removes pizza boxes from a shelving unit placed in a hallway outside the kitchen.The makeover team installed a wire shelving system above the new worktable and at the nearby refrigerated prep station. Now utensils, pizza pans, one-sixth pans and other items are all within easy reach. Many of the worktables installed at Brewability have variable height adjustments — an advantage for crew members with accessibility issues.

A table next to the pizza ovens had served as a combination prep and expediting station. The expediting function was moved to a new worktable on the other side of the kitchen, nearer the pickup area. A worktable with a center-position riser was installed where the table had been, effectively creating a pass-through from the prep area to the pizza ovens. Shelves on the riser provide handy storage space for plates; shelves below the table hold bins for knives or other utensils.

A new heated holding cabinet placed near the expediting station now holds finished pizzas and slices ready for takeout.

The area around the dish machine also benefited from the installation of wire shelving and a drying rack which can also double for storage when needed.

Bar Managers Avery Becker and Juliana Trunfio. Bar Managers Avery Becker and Juliana Trunfio.

Rolling in Dough

The dough vault, located right off the kitchen, was the next area to receive an update. The makeover team first helped repair the mixer, which hadn’t been working properly, and then moved it to join Zoomba Kessler 3846Alyse Morgan gets flour from a bin in the dough vault. Dough-making equipment is now centralized here, along with canned goods on convenient racks.the dough roller on a new worktable. Wall-mounted shelving behind and above the table was added to provide storage for mixer paddles and dry ingredients used to make dough. Can racks were installed on new shelving to ensure first in, first out usage of #10 cans. The team also brought in an electric can opener to replace an antiquated manual model.

Two rooms toward the back of Brewability presented some major challenges and opportunities. The rooms were basically used as catchall spaces, holding everything from chemicals to soft drinks to musical instruments. These rooms were virtually impossible for crew members (even those without a disability) to negotiate, and there was no logic as to where things were stashed. The Brewability team spent the days before the makeover cleaning out the rooms, discarding unnecessary items and moving others to basement storage.

A new heated holding cabinet keeps pizzas warm for pickup orders.A new heated holding cabinet keeps pizzas warm for pickup orders.The makeover team installed shelving in both rooms. One room was equipped with wire shelving for paper products and other front-of-the-house necessities. After the cleanout and the shelf installation, there was actually enough space gained in the room for Fixter to now have a functioning office area. The second room was equipped with plastic shelving. One rack stores beverages; a separate one holds cleaning products and chemicals. Yet another holds grain the brewery uses, which had previously been stored in a hallway. That eliminated an accessibility (and fire code) problem.

While organization is important to every kitchen, having items in a consistent location is especially important to many of Fixter’s employees, especially those on the autism spectrum or those dealing with sight issues. So the labels on the shelving were not only printed in larger type, but they also included small drawings to help make the connection to the items placed there. The label for the window cleaner shelf, for example, includes a small picture of a window. Labels are also printed in Braille.

To maximize every bit of available space, pizza boxes for to-go orders were moved to a new rack in an outside hallway.

The brewery also received some minor improvements to help it work more efficiently. Stainless-steel tables were replaced with plastic tables, which can stand up to humidity and tough cleaning products. Dunnage racks and keg racks were installed in the brewery cooler.

As a final touch, a small rack was installed at the POS station in the front of the house to display and sell to guests Brewability-branded baseball caps and T-shirts as well as other items made by members of the disability community.

The Grand Finale

The makeover was completed on Sept. 13. That evening, to celebrate the hard work done by her crew and the makeover team, Fixter threw a big party for friends and customers, complete with entertainment. She says that the makeover “has been really well received. People knew that we weren’t very organized.” As with any reorganization, “we’re still figuring out where everything is. But it’s definitely easier [to use] the dough mixer and things like that.” Not only is she excited about the front-of-the-house organization but having a “real” office to work from is also a plus. “It was a junk room, and now it’s a real, usable office space,” she says.

Although running a successful business remains Fixter’s immediate goal, her longer-term aspiration is to get more disabled or challenged individuals into the restaurant industry. In showing how her crew helps make Brewability a vital part of the community, she says, “hopefully, we will help the restaurant industry.”

Easily cleanable shelving and trays help bring organization to the brewery room.Easily cleanable shelving and trays help bring organization to the brewery room.

It’s All About Ability

Tiffany Fixter Tiffany Fixter Tiffany Fixter isn’t resting on her laurels. Besides running Brewability, she also has a nonprofit arm called Ability to Access Inc. Once a week, she arranges for special education groups, from kids to adults, to come work in the kitchen for the day. (For these classes, the kitchen is renamed Pizzability, so parents won’t have a qualm about their children being in a brewery.) She provides an overview of foodservice, starting with rudimentary training in personal hygiene and moving on to the basics of foodservice sanitation: “Having clean clothes, wearing a clean apron and closed-toe shoes,” she says. “And not touching your face or body when you’re cooking.”

After instruction in handwashing and glove usage, they move on to getting the restaurant ready for service. Next, “we’ll take two at a time — one at a time if they need more support — and teach them how to make their own pizzas,” she says. After their pizza lunch, she does mock interviews with each attendee, so they can get a feel for applying for  a job. The only problem with that, she laughs, is that “they all think they now work here forever.”

Along those same lines, Fixter is starting a nonprofit food truck to be called Snackability. “We realized that a lot of school districts won’t pay for transportation to come to our field trips because buses can be expensive,” she says. “So we decided we could take the kitchen to them.” The food truck, Fixter says, will give her the ability to fine-tune the day’s teaching to the skill level of the students. “Something that doesn’t require a lot of motor skills would be scooping ice cream, whereas it takes a more advanced skill level to make a crepe,” she says. “So that’s going to be built into the curriculum.”

After consulting with occupational therapists, Fixter plans to launch another company called (naturally) Dineability, to create adaptive dining kits for other restaurants. Brewability already has some adaptive dinnerware available, such as two-handled cups and weighted tableware. “We’re going to curate the adaptive dining kits, and then teach other restaurants how to offer it … and basically sell it to restaurants,” she says.

POV: Pizzamaker

Jacob Ruth has little time to relax at Brewability. He defines his job as “pizza chef, kitchen manager and sometimes food runner whenever situations become dire.” A behavioral therapist he was seeing recommended Brewability to him, and he has worked at Brewability just under a year. He works a 5 to 10 p.m. shift four days a week. On nights when the restaurant has a well-known band or a private party, “that’s when you say it’s going to be a busy day,” he says. But he has no problem with those days, claiming that there’s more “brain functionality [on] busier days than slow.” And at the end of those busy days, “I just say to myself, it was hell on earth, but it was fun,” he says.

For someone who has been in the pizza business less than a year, Ruth speaks with the authority of a lifelong pizzamaker. “It can be hot sometimes, and on hot days it’s brutal. I’m going to be honest about that. But I like the process of just saying to myself, ‘OK, you don’t want to overcook the pizza; you don’t want to undercook it.’ There has to be a fine line,” he says.

What Jacob Ruth likes most about working at Brewability “is the inclusion of people on different spectrums or disabilities. In this place, it’s about inclusion and diversity. Everyone is equal here.”

Your Turn

Could your kitchen storage areas benefit from a makeover like the one at Brewability? Submissions are now being accepted into FE&S’ 2024 Kitchen Storage Makeover Contest. Review the rules and download the entry form at