“From the beginning, our goal was not to own a restaurant, coffee shop or deli,” says Jack Miller. But he and his wife, Athan Miller, now own one of each.
Fifteen years ago, the Millers had minimal experience in the food and beverage industry. Jack owned and operated three real estate offices, while Athan was a social worker specializing in helping people with developmental disabilities. Their passion for helping others led them to purchase Steamers Coffee Shop, at 8565 Five Parks Drive in Arvada, in 2007.
“We just thought it would be a great vehicle to put people to work that deserve an opportunity,” Jack says of their first business venture, which focused on employing people with developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and seizure disorders. The business began with three disabled employees, but soon grew.
As their coffee shop gained traction, the Millers expanded to a larger space, founding Jack's Bar and Grill next door to Steamer’s. Jack's serves burgers, sandwiches, tacos and more. "When we built this facility, some restaurant design people came to me and said our plan was horribly inefficient," Jack explains. "My response was, 'Perfect.' That is what we want it to be. If it's inefficient, then we are going to need more people to help us through the process."
The couple also learned that certain tasks were well suited to their employees with disabilities. That led to the launch of A Different Kind of Jam in 2011. The production process for jam is labor-intensive and repetitive, and was the perfect fit for their workers.
The jam gained national attention in 2015 after it was featured on ABC's The Chew. The episode led to a massive spike in sales — so massive that it crashed the website. Each jar is homemade, from fruit to label, and the jam maker even signs the jar. "Our food is made with love," says Sarah Smith, director of culinary development. "Every plate or bottle that goes out, a handful of employees with and without disabilities have directly contributed in some way."
In 2014, the Millers purchased the large space next door to Jack's that was used as a prep kitchen. There, employees with disabilities learned basic kitchen skills while helping to provide ready-to-cook food to Jack’s. A change in the restrictions regarding how people with disabilities are employed prompted the Millers to adjust, transforming the prep kitchen into AJ’s Deli, which opened in April.
AJ’s sells deli sandwiches, jams and baked goods, while the large kitchen remains an employee training hub. Now, between the four concepts, the Millers employ over seventy staff members with developmental disabilities.
"Some days I am bummed going to work because it is called 'work,' but for a lot of our employees, coming to work is the greatest thing that has happened to their lives," says Jack.
AJ's Deli, 8566 Five Parks Drive, is open Monday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jack's Bar and Grill is located at 8565 Five Parks Drive and is open Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 303-456-7624 or visit jacksatfiveparks.com.
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