Exclusively Inclusive – Dig It! Coffee Co.

By Karen Brain
Photography courtesy of Dig It! Coffee Co.

When I mentioned I was going back to Vegas again, a friend asked me if I had ever been to Dig it! Coffee Co. I had never heard of it, but I love coffee, so why not give it a try? Then I mentioned it to another friend, who said, “Karen, how have you never heard of this place? They focus on hiring people with disabilities,” And now it was my mission to go to Dig it! while visiting Vegas.

It’s true; I quickly learned its focus is on so much more than delicious coffee and treats. This business “provides competitive wage job opportunities for adults of ALL abilities … [envisioning] a thriving community built on inclusivity, equity, and kindness. Through coffee and connection [they] offer a new perspective on what inclusion looks like in the workplace.” Before entering the shop, I already had a million questions about it.

Dig It! Coffee Co.

Before Coffee

Becoming an adult, or “aging out,” as some of us may know it, can be challenging for people with disabilities. It’s a very different experience for people with versus without disabilities; this topic could be an entire article of its own, or several books, which I’m sure already exists. The owner of Dig it!, Taylor, is sixteen months older than her sister, Lindsay, who has Down Syndrome. As they approached adulthood, Taylor noticed Lindsay’s experiences were very different from her own. Taylor wanted to change that, remove barriers and make improvements if she could; not just for her sister, but for others who may encounter similar challenges.

Taylor created and opened The Garden Foundation in 2018. It is a Las Vegas non-profit organization providing person-centered programs for people with disabilities to meet their individual goals, such as educational and recreational classes, vocational training, skills building, mentorship, and community services. There are multiple programs within this organization. The Garden Foundation offers a collaborative approach, helping individuals achieve their goals while learning to be more independent and immersed in our community.

Making Coffee

Through the work of The Garden Foundation, the connections made within the community, and small steps over time, four years later Dig it! Coffee Co. opened its doors to customers on September 24, 2022. The enormous support from Las Vegas residents and others who learn about The Garden Foundation and Dig it! Coffee Co. has been incredible. Established connections within the communities allow word-of-mouth advertisements to suffice for filling position vacancies or meeting other business needs.

Dig it! provides both part-time and full-time positions with competitive wages for its staff. Let me take a moment to focus on this important subject for a minute: Competitive Wages. What does it mean? It generally means providing compensation that is comparable to the industry standard. Why is it important to point out here? Because in this country, in this day and age, it is still legal to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. So, while those words may not stand out to you, for someone with a disability, it may be the most important part of a position.

Dig it! Coffee Co. is located within the Art District in downtown Las Vegas, on the corner of South Casino Center Boulevard and East Colorado Avenue. The Art District fosters an environment of authenticity and inclusion, a perfect location for a shop with the same goal. Dig It’s culture of inclusivity, equity, and kindness draws the interest of like-minded patrons, which is why you’ll find the clientele and staff are diverse, representing multiple communities.

Beyond Coffee

This place seemed like magic to me! It’s a culture of inclusivity, equity, and kindness… AND it’s a diverse environment where that is normalized…AND it employs people with disabilities with competitive wages! Friends, it’s the trifecta.

We sat there, drinking our coffee and eating our apple strudel in silence (delicious, by the way) because I genuinely was speechless that this was reality. You have to understand in my world, I don’t find myself surrounded by people like me. Growing up, I didn’t have family members who had disabilities. I didn’t have friends who had disabilities. I don’t often find myself surrounded by many people with disabilities. When I am around a bunch of people with disabilities, it’s usually in a hospital, a therapy setting, or a program for people with disabilities, which tends to come with a feeling of negativity, requirement, or obligation. But Dig it! felt different. I tried to analyze why I had such strong feelings about this coffee shop.

Because for the first time in my life, I was in a public place, a business establishment providing products and services for everyone to enjoy, and it was filled with people like me… but at the same time, filled with people different than me… and it was okay, because we were all there for the same reason (the products and services) but that reason had nothing to do with our disabilities. Nobody cared that we had disabilities. Nobody was staring. Nobody was whispering. Nobody was pointing. Nobody was judging. For the first time, I felt safe and accepted to be who I am and that it was okay to be me. Do you remember the first time you felt that way?

While it was a safe space, it was also no big deal that I have a disability, and that felt so awesome. I sat there sipping my coffee and watching the environment around me: some customers were working on their laptops, others were laughing with their friends, and staff were taking orders and delivering drinks and food to tables. Just your “average” coffee shop doing its “usual” things, and everyone is just like me. I realized that because this place exists today, one day, this environment can also exist outside these walls. I hope that happens. I hope a bunch of Dig it! clones open everywhere, providing a community built on inclusivity, equity, and kindness, offering competitive wage job opportunities for people of ALL abilities!

So I returned to Dig it! the next day and ordered the same thing. I find it hard to deviate when I find something I really like. You should go check it out, too! Dig it! celebrates birthdays and special occasions; it will celebrate its first birthday on September 30, 2023, and World Inclusion Day on October 10, 2023. As Dig it! does include staff who identify as LGBTQIA+, I’m sure Pride will be celebrated too. Hope to see you there sometime!

Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine - Issue 47

This article was originally published in Issue 47 of Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, and can be read in its original format here.