A few months ago, a high-up executive from the company that owns Scotty’s Brewhouse walked into the restaurant’s Mishawaka location for an inspection and made an observation: “These are the cleanest floors I have ever seen.”

Scotty’s employee Israel Thomas, who was hired in January, beamed with pride.

“The rest of the day, he was glowing,” said John Ravenscroft, the restaurant’s assistant general manager. “That validation was so important to him. Someone he had never seen before in his life was complimenting his work and finding value in it.”

When Israel first started at Scotty’s, he was nervous and shy. But now — after that compliment from a stranger — Israel is a confident, ambitious and cheerful member of the Scotty’s team.

Israel has an intellectual disability and was connected with the job at Scotty’s through ADEC’s community employment services. ADEC connects qualified and eager individuals (who happen to have an intellectual or developmental disability) with businesses who are seeking new employees.

With unemployment rates dropping in Indiana to 3.9 percent — a 16-year low — filling open positions is becoming harder for more companies. But more businesses, like Scotty’s Brewhouse, are learning of an entire untapped labor pool: People with disabilities.

ADEC’s partnership with Scotty’s started when Sara Howard, senior manager of community employment for ADEC, heard someone from the human resources department talk about how the chain was making a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. Howard stopped into the Misahwaka location and was met with enthusiasm from General Manager Katie Malicki.

“It has been eye-opening to work with people like Israel,” Katie said. “I think employers want to put people with disabilities into a box and say, ‘They’re not going to be able to do that.’ People don’t recognize how much potential there is, but it really does open you up to a different applicant pool. We are excited that we have this other area to explore now.”

Israel was the first individual Scotty’s hired through ADEC, but he wasn’t the last. Several other clients have also started working with the restaurant.

Sara said Scotty’s Brewhouse has been inclusive, warm and accommodating to each client. One ADEC client with mobility issues was interested in busing tables at Scotty’s, but the wheels had fallen off her cart.

“Scotty’s ordered her a better cart,” Sara said. “That’s initiative you don’t see from a lot of employers. We are so grateful.”

Scotty’s Brewhouse made a commitment to working with people with disabilities a few years ago when The Arc of Indiana launched the Erskine Green Training Institute, an immersive hospitality training program based in Muncie. Kim Dodson, executive director of The Arc, had approached Scott Wise of Scotty’s Brewhouse to ask if he would be interested in a partnership. He said yes immediately.

“These are all people that are capable and willing and want to work,” Scott said. “Why wouldn’t we give them an opportunity? Where other people might shut a door, we are going to open it.”

Scotty’s Brewhouse employs people with disabilities at every one of its locations, and Wise hopes to expand the effort so 10 percent of the workforce is made up of people with disabilities.

“It’s the most amazing thing. It’s almost like a secret I don’t want to share with anybody because I don’t want anybody to know how great this is, because I want it all to myself,” Scott said. “But that would be selfish and wrong. That’s why I want people to understand that we hire everybody. It started as just a drop of water in a bucket. The waves and the ripples are reaching other people. It’s reaching other managers, it’s reaching other restaurants. I hope to see that continue throughout our entire company.”

Although hiring people with disabilities is now ingrained in company culture at Scotty’s, each location has been asked to embrace the practice themselves.

Katie said she was not sure how the staff would respond at first — the restaurant industry is fast-paced and results-oriented — but she soon realized there was no reason to worry.

“We wanted it to be as organic as possible,” John said. “We wanted to avoid any preconceived notions and let people figure it out, and they did. Our employees from ADEC are not special ones that we hired just to be nice. They are part of the team.”

Not only have Scotty’s Brewhouse employees welcomed Israel and others from ADEC as coworkers, but they have also become friends. Israel texts his coworkers, plays games with them through iMessage and hangs out with them outside of work.

Sara said that is a goal for all community employment clients: To develop natural supports in their community that will help them become more independent.

Katie said she would encourage other restaurants to partner with agencies that serve people with disabilities, like ADEC.

“It has actually helped us with communication skills,” she said. “You see your staff grow, you see that individual grow, and you even see yourself grow.”