Hot chicken joint serves second chances

Shannon Wilson has worked for Hot Chicken Takeover for two years. Before that, she was in prison.

Wilson, now an Executive Coordinator for the popular Ohio restaurant, was addicted to drugs for 15 years. At 31, she was incarcerated for nearly four years. When she was released, she had no money, no clothes, and no food.

Luckily, she was provided transitional housing and resources from Rachel’s House and Kindway Embark, two organizations that assist with prisoner re-entry. She applied to multiple jobs but companies were reluctant to hire someone with a criminal background. A counselor at Kindway Embark told her about Hot Chicken Takeover’s open hiring policy. Wilson applied and landed a job. Finally, someone was willing to give her a shot at rebuilding her life.

“I started washing dishes, just like everyone else,” she says.

Employment is a huge barrier for prisoners attempting to reenter society. According to Wilson, in order to have a productive and normal life, a person needs a job. The income, steady schedule and social support are all essential to reentry success. Because many states allow companies to ask applicants about criminal history, former prisoners aren’t given a chance to prove themselves.

When Hot Chicken Takeover offered Wilson an opportunityshe didn’t take it lightly. “I had gotten the door slammed in my face multiple times,” she tells USA TODAY. “When this opportunity came up, I wanted to keep this job. I was a better worker because that trust was instilled in me.”

For Wilson, the job at Hot Chicken Takeover changed her life.

The Company

Founded in 2014 by Joe DeLoss, Hot Chicken Takeover was formed as a business with a social mission.

DeLoss combined his knack for entrepreneurship with his passion for community development. He wanted to create a company where he could “work alongside people as they made significant changes in their lives.”

Although the company’s main business is hot chicken, their mission lies in their hiring process. According to Wilson, an estimated 70% of their employees have criminal records. The company’s purpose is to hire people not based on their pasts, but their futures.

Numerous studies show that employment does reduce re-offending, and recidivism rates are much lower in areas where reentry programs include employment. But DeLoss wants people to know that fair chance employment isn’t a just charitable community development strategy. It’s a powerful tool to develop a strong workforce and a strong business. His employees, he says, bring engagement, character, and integrity with them to work every day.

“Our workforce is strong because our people are strong,” DeLoss says.

And Wilson seconds that. She states that Hot Chicken Takeover’s retention rate is double what similar businesses have.

“It’s a wise business choice to hire people who will work hard and stay in their job,” she says.

Long-term well-being of employees is also a priority for the company. They offer benefits that suit the unique needs of someone who has a criminal record.

Cash advances are offered in an effort to help employees avoid predatory lenders. “Matched Milestones” teach employees to budget and save their money, rewarding them with matched savings for purchases that improve life quality, like a security deposit on an apartment or a down payment on a car. And counselors are provided on retainer for recovery support.

“Joe always said if someone isn’t stable in their personal life, they won’t be stable in their professional life,” says Wilson of her boss.

Aside from their mission to give second chances, Hot Chicken Takeover is, after all, a food company.

“We actually do have really good chicken,” says Wilson with a laugh.

Hot Chicken Takeover has two locations in Columbus and plans to open more. The restaurant serves fresh chicken brined for 18 hours and fried with varying degrees of heat. Southern-style sides are available à la carte. Seating is family style, just like the attitude.

This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project.

Janie Fulling

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/hot-chicken-joint-serves-second-chances/ar-BBE7YC6

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