Securing employment is one of the biggest issues facing returning citizens exiting the prison system today. But unfortunately, our broken justice system does little to prepare incarcerated individuals for the world that is waiting for them on the outside. And without a job, it becomes all too easy to fall back on the same old habits that landed someone behind bars, to begin with.
Luckily, where the government has failed the free market is stepping in to help provide second chances to those who need them most.
According to the research firm Technomic, MOD Pizza is one of the fastest growing restaurant chains today. In about seven years, the company has expanded from five restaurants in the Washington area to 367 locations across 28 states and the United Kingdom. And already this year, the company has experienced a growth rate of 81%. But one of the secrets to MOD’s success may be surprising. Several years ago, it changed its hiring policy to include an often neglected portion of the U.S. population. And this decision has made all the difference.
Speaking of the business she co-founded with her husband Scott, Ally Svenson said:
“We have no interest in just building another fast-casual pizza business. We’re building a business platform to make positive social impacts.” And this is exactly what they have done. MOD has made it a routine practice to hire returning citizens who are leaving the penal system and are looking for work.
Years ago, the couple began paying attention to data that showed that former convicts were ideal employees. Anxious to stay out of prison and empowered by the ability to earn an income, formerly incarcerated employees are especially motivated. And since we still live in a world where many employers ask prospective workers to check a box if they have ever been convicted of a felony, a company’s willingness to hire returning citizens yields extremely loyal employees.
When Tony D’Aloia received his first paycheck from MOD he was overcome with emotion. His $800 check was more money than he had earned since before he went to prison for five years for conspiracy to distribute ecstasy. When he had first started at MOD in 2011, he was less than thrilled. He had been willing to accept a job as a dishwasher, but he wasn’t necessarily happy about it, though he was relieved to have a source of steady income.
Not only was the company unconcerned with his criminal record, but they were also willing to offer him benefits and a 401(K). And while dishwashing wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs, he was in no place to turn the job down. But after receiving that first check, he was filled with pride. Having endured working long hours in his holey, worn out shoes, D’Aloia took that first check and immediately bought himself a new pair, a moment he will never forget. “Life was better right then,” he said. “I could finally provide for myself.”
Within his first two years at MOD, D’Aloia was promoted three times. And his determination to succeed inspired the Svensons to refocus their company’s priorities. At first, they began hiring a few former convicts as a matter of convenience. There were a few individuals who had applied and the pair felt that it was the right thing to do. But after these “impact hires,” as they call them, began proving themselves to be motivated employees, the Svensons decided to adopt this policy as part of their business model.
Ally said, “After that first three-year period, the mission became very intentional. We started to describe our business as enlightened capitalism.”
In addition to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, some of MOD’s franchises have also begun extending employment opportunities to those with Autism. Three years ago, in one of MOD’s Houston locations, a manager hired a young man with Autism to help fold boxes. Not only was the boy great at folding boxes, but he also enjoyed it. This resulted in the store hiring another employee with Autism, and then another. Now, there over 25 employees in the Houston store have Autism and are also thriving in their positions.
The company’s goal is now to spread “MODness,” what MOD insiders call happiness. In addition to its unique hiring practices, the company is also big on helping out its own. When an employee had his bike stolen, his co-workers pitched in to buy him another one. This act of “MODness” inspired the entire company to launch something called the Bridge Fund. The Bridge Fund is a private financial safety net within the company that employees can rely on in instances of emergencies.
When the company learned that one of its employees had been struggling with homelessness, it didn’t take long for it to get involved and make sure that they had secured him temporary housing. This act of kindness meant so much to the employee, he has remained a loyal worker in the years that have followed and now manages five of MOD’s locations.
While MOD Pizza hasn’t changed adopted these policies as a means of attracting consumers, it has definitely worked to this end. In fact, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, many consumers are willing to spend even more money on a product or service than they typically would if the company in question is cause-driven. This makes “enlightened capitalism” a win/win situation for all parties involved.
Not only are these returning citizens getting the rare opportunity to rebuild their lives, but the company itself is getting the opportunity to work with motivated, loyal employees. And the consumers win as well. By voting with their dollars, consumers can choose to spend their money on a company with a good cause. Capitalism might often get a bad name, but companies like MOD Pizza and many others are proving that when the free market gives back, almost everybody wins.