Meaningful Business (MB:) Why did you decide to set up Hot Chicken Takeover?
Joe Deloss (JD): I’ve been launching businesses, or at least making attempts, for most of my life. But in my adult life, just over 15 years ago, I started getting very interested in how businesses could generate more sustainable impact in our communities. After a few failed attempts, I found my chance with Hot Chicken Takeover – in fried chicken of all things!
MB: Tell us a bit more about Hot Chicken Takeover’s Mission.
JD: Our mission is pretty simple, we’re trying to create extraordinary experiences for extraordinary people. Of course, we’re concerned about our guests and investors, but our primary stakeholder is our team. We believe this team-first attitude dramatically improves our business.
MB: What led you to make providing fair chances such an integral part of the company?
JD: I had my share of false starts before Hot Chicken Takeover, but all of these attempts leveraged fair chance hiring as a critical ingredient. When I began all this work, I was fuelled by a ton of ego – really self-righteously believing I had a responsibility to rid the world of adversity or some nonsense. The reality is I got a chance to grow up as an entrepreneur (and as a human, for that matter) because of the rich relationships I had in fair chance work environments, particularly with people that had very different experiences than my own. I can’t imagine another way to do business.
MB: How does Hot Chicken Takeover break down barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people?
JD: From the outside looking in, most people get stuck on the novelty of who we hire, not how. We’ve built Hot Chicken Takeover to be an employer of choice for those that have experienced some significant adversity along the way – for many, that means incarceration, but additionally, it could mean addiction, homelessness, trafficking, or even domestic violence. We hire those with bright visions for their future as they navigate the fallout of their pasts. We try to meet our team members where they’re at and couple accountability with countless earned benefits for growth. Our benefits range from matched savings programmes and legal support to more conventional benefits like healthcare and professional development.
MB: What have been the key challenges and benefits of working with justice-involved individuals?
JD: We know our business is strong because our people are strong. Hot Chicken Takeover retains its team three times better than our industry, creating a lot more continuity for our business and guests. Aside from low turnover, we get to be alongside people as they’re achieving huge goals in their life – it just makes for a much happier and healthier work environment and community.
Being deeply invested in your team isn’t without challenges. Hot Chicken Takeover works hard to tow a line between personal investment and accountability with our team, but we don’t always end up on the right side. As we scale, we’re really focused on how to equip our leaders with more tools to support their teams while achieving critical growth metrics as a restaurant.
MB: What advice would you give to an employer who was considering adopting fair chance hiring practices?
JD: We’re always eager to share our experience with employers but have found many look at our strategies and think hiring fair chance candidates is some silver bullet to improving their employee retention (or any other number of metrics). If you approach this work without a deep desire to understand your team and what they might be up against, you’re bound to fail. The reality is, that same attitude is why these employers are probably having labour issues to begin with. Our number one piece of advice is pretty simple, get started by not being an a–hole employer.
MB: Why do you think some hirers are hesitant to employ people with criminal records?
JD: There’s a great list of reasons we’ve heard, with the most frequent being around theft and conflict in the workplace. Years ago, I heard that an international distribution company were not hiring fair chance but admitted to having substantial enough ‘shrinkage’ to account for it on public financial statements. That means they were actively hiring folks good enough at stealing to have never been caught, while egregiously discriminating against those who had so much to gain from meaningful employment because of a past mistake.
Though I don’t always have the patience for it anymore, I try to help these employers understand the impact adversity and poverty can have on their candidate pools. A little bit of empathy can go a long way in creating stronger work environments.
MB: What’s next for Hot Chicken Takeover?
JD: With the craziest year of our history nearly behind us, we’re diving deeply into a round of HR innovations while seeking partners to grow and scale our concept further. We’ve come a long way since opening a chicken window in the side of a building seven years ago, but we know we’ve got a lot further to go.
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