You will not find restaurant reviews on the CCDC blog often, and almost never by me, but today is different. CCDC took the members of our legislative team who were available to lunch today at Pizzability at 250 Steele Street to thank them for their many hours of tireless work this session. They were an admirable team and deserved more than lunch. However, lunch and our undying gratitude are what we can provide. Our amazing community organizer Dawn Howard chose the location.
Like most restaurants in Cherry Creek North, it is physically small. Unlike any other restaurant in that area where I have eaten, I did not feel in the way—even when I was objectively in the way. In any space, when a bunch of us come in at the busy hour we can be..well…in the way. It only takes a couple of wheelchairs, never mind some canes, walkers, dogs, and general klutziness to make us seem like we are taking over. When we are doing an action that is exactly what we want, but when we go to eat out, whether individually or in a small group we do not want to feel as if our mere presence is an inconvenience. So today we show up and our presence overwhelms the place both physically and logistically. Yet we are greeted with warmth and genuine pleasure that we are there. When I was objectively in the way blocking an aisle no one bumped into me, no one asked me to move, no one gave me “the look”. No employee rushed to serve me quickly for the purpose of getting me out of the way.
Most of our crew had ordered but there were three of us left when I arrived. The bill for three lunches in Cherry Creek North came to $16. The food was good. Most significant for me is that they had Gelato—I saw that and forgot about pizza. The slices that my colleagues ate looked terrific. They were big, and hot and had many varieties. Salads were an option also and non-alcoholic drinks appeared to be free with the pizza. They had some alcohol for sale as well…soon they will have pairing suggestions.
As you might guess by the name, this is a restaurant that sells mostly pizza and most of the employees are people with disabilities, particularly people who appeared to have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Most of the customers eating there today appeared to have disabilities as well.
My personal food tastes are more in line with other places in Cherry Creek North. Earlier this week I had an hour in between meetings in that part of town and went somewhere else. The food I like (and admit it is kind of ridiculous food) is more like an overpriced salad with things like goat cheese, grapes, and cranberries. I had that with unsweetened tea (trying to be good diet wise) and while the food was delicious, and there was much more physical space in this place than at Pizzability, I felt completely in the way the entire time I was there. It was uncomfortable. While no one was rude or even unkind it was my presence was made people uncomfortable. I had to ask several people to move to get to a space to eat. I actually considered getting it to go even though it was raining and cold that day. I am sure the people in this restaurant (staff and customers) would have been relieved had I just taken the food to go. Today, when some of choose to sit outside at the tables (it was probably 60 degrees and felt lovely) they asked repeatedly if we were sure we were comfortable and offered to move things around if we preferred to be inside. The offer was made in a manner that showed respect and that they valued our business.
There were other cool features. The menus are paper and you circle what you wanted and write your name. Accessible for Deaf folks and people that do not speak English, do not read, etc. Some work would be required to make it accessible for blind folks (there is a menu online). There was a “sensory corner” with various objects. Each plate was different and they were painted by artists from the Access Gallery (an art gallery for disabled artists).
There did appear to be someone without a visible disability running things and the way she talked there was a training component for employees. (I learned later on their facebook page that this is indeed a training program)The employees were working hard and seemed happy, and the work is real work that valued employees do in restaurants every day. If part of the goal is to train workers for “integrated” jobs, I am sure that will work. However, some employees may want to stay and be around others with disabilities. Maybe some will become supervisors or trainers. Maybe some will prefer to keep doing the great job they are doing today.
Is this segregated? Maybe? Not sure that it matters because it is a choice. Doing a good job and being paid for work, and continuing to learn and improve at one’s job is what adults do in our society. Other groups have businesses that are primarily run by and serve specific communities. They do not eschew customers from outside groups but they cater to their own communities. This is how disenfranchized communities build economic power. There are “pink pages” advertising gay-owned businesses. There are Latinx and Black Chambers. Why not promote and support more disability-run/disability positive businesses? Non-disabled people can work and eat there but the atmosphere and culture stay disability positive. Just like as a white person I can go to eatery owned, staffed, and patronized mostly by people of color. I am welcome to show up but not to inappropriately take over the culture of the place (as white people often want to do). Communities of color started and continue these businesses because there is an economic and cultural need for spaces that do not have to bend to the dominant culture. That is cultural pride, not involuntary segregation. We need to start understanding the difference.
We need businesses like this in our community..that is by and for our people. Where non-disabled allies are welcomed but where our disability culture and our vibe will stay the dominant feeling. We need to stop defining success by how much we interact with people who do not have disabilities.
I know that I preferred eating lunch in a disability positive environment, among not only my peers/colleagues with disabilities but among other customers and employees with disabilities. I would rather eat in a place where I feel comfortable and welcome than in a place where I am obviously in the way. The next time I happen to have an hour in between meetings in Cherry Creek North, Pizzability will get my business! I encourage you all to do the same. I am sure they will also welcome those of you without disabilities too.