MOD Pizza finds strength as second chance employer

MOD Pizza

Kory Harp, MOD Pizza’s program manager – impact hires

Although named by Nation’s Restaurant News as the fastest growing U.S. restaurant chain in terms of sales for two years in a row, MOD Pizza sees the growth of its employees as more important than financial success.

And it prides itself on being a second chance employer. But second chance at MOD means more than creating opportunities only for formerly incarcerated employees. Although there are plenty of those. In fact, they make up about 21 percent of the company’s workforce.

“MOD gives a second chance to everybody,” says Kory Harp, program manager – impact hires. “We give a second chance to the mom who hasn’t worked in 10 or 15 years and the kid who wants to go to college, but this is his first job. We give everyone a chance no matter who they are.”

And giving those who want it a chance has created a company that’s about more than just pizza. Not to say that MOD’s “made on demand” pizza doesn’t have a following in places where it has opened outlets.

A platform for doing good

The way the company officially defines itself on the “Who We Are” section of its website: “At its heart MOD is a platform for doing good. The idea? If we take care of our employees, they’ll take care of you, and our business will take care of itself. We call it Spreading MODness, and after opening stores across the U.S., we think it’s working.”

Something must be working, or else it wouldn’t have made it to the top of the fastest growing restaurant list. The Seattle-headquartered company had a 44.7% increase in systemwide sales growth in 2018. It grew from 31 locations in 2014 to 476 outlets in 29 states – as well as the United Kingdom and Canada – today.

Part of the company’s success may no doubt be due to the fact that it is a second chance employer, a concept that more and more consumers are beginning to support. And it all began with Harp.

“I came in about 2010 (two years after the company was founded),” he says.” I had just been released from prison. I told them I hadn’t worked for a while, but the hiring manager said she kind of liked me.

Hiring formerly incarcerated employees for a decade

“The thing about MOD that puts us apart is everybody now wants to hire somebody that has a background. It’s the cool thing to do these days, but MOD has been doing that for 10 years. It was started by me.”

He worked really hard for the first six months. “The boss told me to hire more people like me who had the same kind of background. And every single one of us has been a manager at some point,” Harp says.

After Harp had been on the job for about three years, MOD Pizza began to put a big focus on hiring people in reentry. “So that took off to what you see now,” he says. “In the state we’re in (Washington),  66 percent of the residents of some of our districts have records. In the company as a whole it’s 18 percent to 21 percent.”

Although he had originally planned to work only a few months at MOD Pizza, Harp has been there more than a decade. He’s opened 91 MOD stores and trained employees across the nation.

Mentorship program to help employees deal with problems

Currently he’s in the process of creating a mentorship program that will launch in the coming months. The purpose of the program is to help people deal with the problems they’re facing in their lives, whether they’re reentering society from prison, are in recovery or whatever situation they’re facing.

“We’ll go in and help people combat their outside life. For me I didn’t know how to do anything on a day-to-day basis. I could come to work and be great, but I had a lot of trouble with handling ordinary life things. I can’t say what we’re going to be doing yet, but we have a big partner that’s going to help us do it,” he says.

In the meantime, “we are going to continue to build stores and keep the culture. Our main goal is to keep the teams happy and give back to the teams and the communities where they are located.”

Homeboy Global Network Gathering brings together agents of change from around the world

Homeboy Global Network Gathering

Attendees at the Homeboy Global Network Gathering.

We attended the 2019 Homeboy Global Network gathering for the fourth time earlier this month. The sixth annual event brought together 320 attendees from 85 organizations, seven countries, 30 states and 72 cities.

Six years ago, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles decided to create a network that would bring together nonprofit change agents from around the world and encourage them to take aspects of  Homeboy Industry’s program back to their own communities. And that network gets together every August. During the two-day event members can share ideas, learn best practices and get to know each other.

Why we became involved in the Homeboy Global Network

We’ve been impressed by Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and reentry organization, for many years, so when we first heard about the gathering we decided to attend. And we’ve kept going back.

“The reasons we attend the Homeboy Global Network Gathering are many. A key reason, however, is that we want to get together with people who are working with the same population we are. We want to learn as much as we can to improve our core work — serving those coming out of prison by being a resource for their healing and for their success in adjusting to life on the outside,” says Mark Drevno, Jails to Jobs founder and executive director. “At the gathering, there were people from around the world. We wanted to see what they are doing and learn from their successes and mistakes. It’s good for us to share our successes and mistakes, as well. It’s a process that can help us improve our offering just that much faster.”

The Homeboy Global Network Gathering consisted of two days of workshops given by Homeboy and other HGN members. Topics ranged from partnering with other organizations and fundraising to creating a social enterprise and establishing healthy communities. Panel discussions and technical support sessions were also offered. Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s charismatic founder, delivered opening and closing remarks and was participating and available throughout the gathering.

Impressive HGN members

Some of the HGN member organizations we were particularly impressed with:

  • Astanza Laser – a laser equipment supplier that generously extends substantial discounts with special pricing on both equipment and service contracts to nonprofits that offer free or low-cost tattoo removal. Three of the four– and the newest – machines Homeboy owns are Astanza.
  • The Other Side Academy – a vocational training school for people age 18-64 in Salt Lake City with a two-year program that some students attend instead of being incarcerated.
  • Mod Pizza – a second-chance employer with more than 400 locations across the U.S. and in the U.K.
  • Our Father’s Table – a San Capistrano, Calif., faith-based organization that gets to know the homeless people in the community and guides them to the services they need.
  • Generation Diamond – an Omaha-based organization that helps youth find purpose in their lives and reach their full potential.
  • Underground Grit – a nonprofit organization in Orange, Calif., that promotes change in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities by providing innovative services within institutions and to those in reentry.
  • Project 180 turns lives around through innovative, wraparound services that keep people out of jails and prisons and in their communities.
Father Greg inspires attendees

Beyond the organizations and the workshops, however, was the presence and inspiration of Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. Being with him and hearing his teachings is the main reason we attend, according to Drevno.

“You leave there with a lot of hope and feeling revitalized,” he says. “Through his storytelling and sense of humor, Father Greg had many beautiful ways to remind us of what’s most important. And what’s most important is that you need to lead with your heart and that we belong to each other.”

Father Greg Boyle

In his closing remarks, Father Greg tells the gathering that:

“We are always on the lookout for the hidden wholeness that’s been there all along. Unshakable goodness. We help each other find our way home to have full and free access to our own undeniable goodness, our essential dignity. It is never in question, only our access to it.

In our Network, it is never about choosing. It’s about finding. If damaged people damage people, and if traumatized people cause trauma, then people who have experienced love and tenderness will extend that into the world. We believe all of us that cherished people will cherish people and in this we all inhabit our own mystical dignity. So this is the truth of who you are as we leave our time together. You are mystics, and you have chosen to speak the whole language. Don’t stop. May you continue to be fluent in extravagant tenderness.

Members look ahead

The Homeboy Global Network is sold out every year, and we feel that it would be nice if it could be more than an annual gathering. As a start, a private LinkedIn group for members was proposed. This group  will hopefully provide a common forum for conversation and offer a chance to get to know other member organizations. That way, we can all continue to learn from each other and improve what we do to further encompass the ideals of Father Greg.