Celebrate Inclusivity at These Growing Denver Eateries

Photo courtesy of DIRT Coffee Bar on Facebook

The culinary landscape is evolving – from new techniques to ingredients, restaurants constantly have more opportunities to be unique. But looking deeper than its food, restaurants are about hospitality. They provide experiences and create inclusive communities within their own, filled with loyal customers who become regulars. 

Inclusivity has become ever more needed in establishments as they strive to provide accepting spaces. Creating a sense of belonging and acceptance, restaurants like Jack’s Bar and Grill and DIRT are making an industry standard of supporting those with disabilities. Although Autism Acceptance Month occurred in April, here’s how these Denver eateries continue to implement inclusive values.

Athan Miller, owner of Jack’s Bar and Grill and Steamers Coffeeshop, has focused on “providing employment and training opportunities to people with disabilities” while sourcing local products since 2006. Their made-from-scratch dishes not only provide culinary training for all but also allow for creativity. “We celebrate the variation in our food and our people!” she said. 

Walking into Jack’s, you get the sense of the warm and accepting hospitality Miller provides. “We are the kind of place where there is a bar stool with [customers] names on it, where our staff knows customers by name and we get to watch their children grow up and bring their children!” said Miller and Director of Services and Communication, Sarah Smith.  

READ: Jacks and Steamers Opens a New Deli in Five Parks That Supports Adults With Developmental Disabilities

Since 2013, the nonprofit DIRT (Divergent, Inclusive, Representation, Transforms) has also stood up for neurodivergent diners. “Inclusivity is in our name because we believe through differences and empathy, we can transform lives, hiring practices and communities,” said Executive Director Catharina Hughey.

Growing from a mobile coffee truck business into having two storefronts, DIRT provides programs and experiences for individuals who are neurodivergent. Aiming to transform current hiring practices that don’t benefit people with disabilities, Hughey said “We take pride in developing meaningful relationships within each community and role-modeling what an inclusive, neurodiverse workplace can be by continuing the work of those who came before us.”

READ: Littleton’s Dirt Coffee Serves the Community for a Cause

Like Jack’s training program, DIRT has initiatives of its own. Through internships and workshops, it provides accessibility and a supportive environment for its employees to gain workplace skills and access to job placement services.

  • Photo of employee with a disability working at DIRT

This accessibility at Jack’s is through cooking and connections. While they provide adaptive equipment in the kitchen, you’ll find customers with hearts in the dining room. “A few years ago, a customer heard that one of our employees wanted to become an expo, but he did not know how to read,” Miller said. This customer, a retired teacher, taught them how to read and now, “that employee has increased job knowledge and skills, presented at employment seminars and got his driver’s license! That’s the magic of our community,” she said. 

Of course, paving the way to inclusive hiring and dining in this industry comes with backlash. “Occasionally, we encounter customers who may feel entitled to harass our staff, but they might be misunderstanding our goal as a coffee shop, which is to create a moment of human connection and kindness in the day,” Hughey said. 

But powering through the hate, Miller said “As a business owner and someone who cares deeply about our mission to prove you can run a successful and sustainable restaurant while employing people with disabilities, I am so grateful for our community.”

Jack’s Bar and Grill is located at 8565 Five Parks Dr., Suite 100, Arvada. It is open Sunday – Thursday, 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Friday – Saturday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Dirt is located at 5767 S. Rapp St., Littleton and is open daily 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. It is also located at and 1785 Quebec St., Denver and is open Tuesday – Friday 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

All photos courtesy of Jack’s Bar and Grill and Dirt on Facebook.

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