Littleton

Dirt Coffee ‘goes beyond the cup’

Company that employs adults with autism to open shop in downtown Littleton

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For four years, Dirt Coffee has been serving up locally roasted coffee out of its truck at farmers’ markets and events around the Denver area while helping an oft-overlooked segment of society.

“The main mission is to employ and empower adults with autism,” Dirt co-founder Lauren Burgess said.

With its expansion into a fixed location in downtown Littleton this summer, Dirt will be able to go beyond its 10 employees.

“The brick-and-mortar will at least double that,” said Burgess, a Denver native

Dirt’s truck will still make its rounds, she said, but the shop will have expanded offerings, including beer and wine.

“We expect to compete with Denver’s craft coffee scene while still caring about our mission,” Burgess said.

In 2011, Burgess founded Garden Inc., which provides therapeutic services to families affected by autism, shortly after earning a master’s degree in educational psychology from University of Colorado. Dirt was born out of a business plan she developed after attending Denver’s Greater Good Academy, which provides training for entrepreneurs interested in sustainable business practices.

“I started recognizing that a lot of people were graduating high school and had nowhere to go,” she said.

The name Dirt comes from her original idea to have a coffeshop under her nonprofit’s office -- beneath the garden -- said Director of Operations Lauren Jennings.

“We now like to say the reason for our name stems from the idea that Dirt is a fruitful foundation for people on the autism spectrum to cultivate independence and grow into their careers,” she said.

Burgess sees coffee as a great way to connect its employees to the community.

“Coffee is the second-highest traded commodity in the world,” she said.

Besides employing adults on the autism spectrum, Dirt helps them with life skills, such as living independently and navigating public transportation.

“We like to say it goes beyond the cup,” Burgess said.

Jennings said that Dirt’s suppliers, such as Denver-based Huckleberry Roasters, have also expressed interest in hiring employees on the autism spectrum.

“The vendors that we choose to work with express commitment to our mission,” she said.

Ever since Dirt began, a brick-and-mortar location has been a goal, Burgess said. After six months of searching, the small brick house on Rapp Street just south of Alamo Street was settled on.

“We like the cozy house feeling,” Burgess said.

Though it will not be ready to open for good until summertime, it will likely host a community event for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.

Burgess hopes to not only provide employment and purpose to those she helps, but show others that they can do the same.

“We want to teach the community that they too can hire people with autism and accept them into their lives,” she said.

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