Dig It! Coffee Co. serves independence in a cup

by Jackie Valley, CSM Contributor from Las Vegas

151500Taylor Chaney founded Dig It! Coffee Co. to offer meaningful employment for people with disabilities in Las Vegas. “I get applications daily,” she says. “It’s amazing, but it’s also heartbreaking.” Jackie Valley

April 17, 2023

Before the customer even reaches the counter, Taylore Sears greets her with gratitude.

“Thank you for coming in!” Ms. Sears says from behind the register at Dig It! Coffee Co. in downtown Las Vegas. 

The woman orders a chocolate-strawberry latte, prompting Ms. Sears, an assistant barista, to ask the follow-up questions coffee connoisseurs have come to expect: “What kind of milk would you like?” and “Would you like it hot or iced?”

The interaction breezes along with pleasantries exchanged as the woman pays and waits for her warm beverage. It’s a scene that unfolds at coffee shops across the globe, except in this case, the business has a purpose that extends far beyond just serving customers. Dig It employs adults with disabilities, providing a sense of dignity and competitive wages that can be difficult to find elsewhere.

151500Jackie ValleyEmployees Taylore Sears (left) and Annika Burton pause inside Dig It! Coffee Co. in February.

The coffee shop opened in September, bringing to life a vision long held by its owner, Taylor Chaney. The Las Vegas native has made it her mission to provide more opportunities for people with different abilities, like her younger sister, Lindsay, who has Down syndrome.

“I get applications daily,” she says. “It’s amazing, but it’s also heartbreaking because I knew that there was a large gap, but it is insurmountable.”

Mrs. Chaney’s advocacy work in the disability community began after Lindsay aged out of the school system. Her family realized there were not many quality options for Lindsay to continue growing and gaining independence as an adult. After a negative experience at a day program, the women’s father retired so he could stay home with Lindsay. That didn’t sit right with Mrs. Chaney, who had attended college and was working as a sales manager for an insurance broker. Opportunities and choices that had fallen her way after graduation did not exist for Lindsay.

So Mrs. Chaney turned down a relocation offer with the insurance broker and spent a year researching the types of programs available for people with disabilities in Nevada and neighboring states. Her takeaway: Not much had been done to move the disability community forward in 50 years.

In 2018, just months after their father suddenly died, Mrs. Chaney opened The Garden Foundation. The nonprofit provides personalized programs and services, such as art therapy, sign language courses, and fitness classes.

151500Jackie ValleyBarista Annika Burton delivers an order amid the bright, checkered decor.

The organization has served about 50 adults, which Mrs. Chaney says is a smaller number by design. She says The Garden Foundation aims to go “really deep” with clients in what she describes as “boutique, high-quality care.”

“They’re not just a person within the system,” she says. “We know each other’s birthday and what they like and don’t like.”

As part of its life skills programming, The Garden Foundation launched a coffee cart to foster money handling and customer service skills, Mrs. Chaney says. Clients operated Blooms & Brew – a nod to the fresh flowers they sold alongside coffee – in the same office building as the nonprofit. 

It was a hit with both customers and clients, Mrs. Chaney says, inspiring a search for a brick-and-mortar location. 

Jonathan Zamora, owner of a distributor called Sin City Coffee & Beverage, helped her find Dig It! Coffee Co.’s spot in a trendy area downtown known as the Arts District. Nearby businesses include a vegan taco restaurant, a vintage clothing store, antique shops, art galleries, bars, and other eateries.

Positivity abounds in Dig It, where flowers, smiley faces, and a light-up sign that says “Not Typical” decorate the interior. The shop’s motto – “Kindness, Coffee, Inclusion” – appears as art on the tops of frothy beverages.

151500Jackie ValleyThe shop’s motto – “Kindness, Coffee, Inclusion” – is included on beverages.

Mr. Zamora describes Mrs. Chaney as someone who “never stops” in her pursuit to build a more inclusive community. 

“She has big, big possibilities to be as successful in business and also be successful in changing people’s lives,” he says.

Apart from giving people with disabilities a nurturing work environment where they can grow and learn, Mrs. Chaney says she is also proud to pay the assistant baristas above minimum wage. They earn $10.50 per hour, plus tips, which usually brings that rate up to $15 or $16. That can be difficult to find, as the U.S. Department of Labor allows businesses to pay subminimum wage to employees with disabilities.

Alecia Fife says Dig It has been a “blessing” for her daughter, Allie, who works as an assistant barista and has gained social confidence and some financial independence. Ms. Fife filmed Allie beaming with pride as she received her first paycheck.

“It’s just done a lot for our daughter,” she says. “It’s been amazing to watch.”

Allie typically works here two days a week, taking customers’ orders from behind the counter. She has learned how to make coffee and make friends – pointing out that the best part of her job is “the people I work with.”

Ms. Sears, the assistant barista, has also honed her skills operating the point-of-sale system, and she doesn’t shy away from recommending various menu items. Her favorite part of the job? “Talking to customers,” she says. Bottom of Form

The benefits run both ways, says Mrs. Chaney, adding that she enjoys watching customers, some of whom haven’t spent time around people with disabilities, experience that interaction. She hopes that one day the coffee shop is less the exception and more the norm when it come to hiring people with disabilities. 

“I love that everyone’s heart can be touched in a different way,” she says.

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Page created on 4/17/2023 4:39:19 PM

Last edited 4/17/2023 4:47:05 PM

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