Second Chance Employer Profile
I Have a Bean/Second Chance Coffee
It all began on a mission trip to Brazil. Pete Leonard, the company’s CEO, discovered that the best coffee he’d ever tasted was made by a farmer roasting beans over an open fire. Inspired by that experience, he taught himself how to roast coffee in his gas grill. About that time a relative of his was released from prison and couldn’t find a job. And he got to know another person who volunteered at a halfway house.
In 2007, Leonard and his partners incorporated, rehabbed a commercial building into a micro-roasting plant and designed a software-controlled coffee-roasting machine to create coffee with exceptional quality sold under the “I Have a Bean” brand. Today, their coffee beans are selected from among the top 1% of coffee in the world, according to ratings established by the Coffee Quality Institute.
I Have a Bean with four full time employees plus Pete Leonard and a few part-time employees, roasts about 50,000 lbs. of coffee per year. Orders placed on their website before 11:00 am Central are roasted and shipped that same day.
The company remains in the 2,400 square-foot facility where it started. It’s upgraded almost all of the site and opened a retail space in the front, where about 20% of the coffee is sold.
I Have a Bean plans to expand to other locations targeting Florida and Memphis, and has an organization in place that is willing to fund the future projects.
Second chance hiring practices
When Leonard launched the business his goal was that 100% of the employees would be post-prison, the term he uses. Because he’s determined to not only have good employees but change attitudes toward those who’ve been incarcerated, the company now hires a mix of post-prison employees and those who’ve never been to prison.
As he puts it, “People who’ve never been to prison have a caricature view of what someone who has been to prison is like. And when they work side by side they realize that they’re really no different from anyone else. They’re regular people who have who have made a mistake and don’t want to be known for that mistake the rest of their lives. It changes the perspective of my non post-prison employees.”
Leonard is also working to change public misperceptions of post-prison people by opening the company’s retail space to an event he created called “Free Coffee Friday”. About five years ago (sometime in 2017), he began inviting other small businesses in the area to the weekly event where free coffee and baked goodies are given to everyone who walks in. It’s turned into a neighborhood party, he says, where relationship removes the stigma associated with going to prison. It gives attendees a chance to get to know each other and discover that post-prison employees are just people like anyone else.
When Covid hit, the company started offering Free Coffee every day, and a couple of hundred people take them up on the offer and the chance to socialize with other locals. “Relationships start here. Business deals are done here, it’s just a lot of fun!” Leonard says.
It hasn’t been difficult for him to find post-prison employees. They come through referrals from judges, parole officers, pastors, parents and locals who know about I Have a Bean.
What he’s looking for in an employee is based around “qualities” rather than skills, five of them in particular. When evaluating candidates, he asks himself, “Are they honest; in control of their own actions, attitudes and decisions; dependable; teachable; and able to think on their feet?”
New employees are always trained one-on-one at I Have a Bean, but there are far more post-prison people who need work than the little company can employ on their own. To to get more post-prison people employed, Leonard created the Walls to Wages Foundation. The nonprofit accepts people leaving prison and figures out which of three tracks in the coffee business each person is suitable for: being a barista, working in a roasting plant or repairing coffee roasting equipment.
Walls to Wages hires them as apprentices, pays for them to learn coffee skills that are certified by the Specialty Coffee Association and finds them work at partner-employers in the coffee industry. For example they’ll arrange for them to train as a coffee roaster or barista, achieve certification and then provide them with a real job utilizing their new skills. It’s a win for everyone involved. According to Leonard, Walls To Wages Foundation is trying to create a workforce that is the “sought after talent in the coffee industry.”