It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for some employees of the new DV8 Kitchen, opening in late August, it could be the most important meal of their lives.
That’s because DV8 Kitchen, which will be at 867 South Broadway, will employ people who are in recovery from drug or alcohol dependence. Rob Perez, owner of Saul Good, who is opening the breakfast concept, said he thinks it’s Lexington’s first social enterprise restaurant.
It’s been a passion project that Perez and his wife, Diane, have worked on for more than two years. They settled on a bakery and breakfast place specifically because it will employ the most people.
Not everyone who works there will be in recovery, but the couple plan to hire some of the staff from several transitional housing programs around Lexington, they said. They are working with Shepherd’s House, The Lighthouse Ministries, Chrysalis House, the Hope Center, and Revive Life House in Jessamine County.
Financing for the restaurant is coming from 25 individual $10,000 low-interest loans to be paid back over five years. And in keeping with the social mission of the enterprise, much of the work has been either donated by local supporters or done at cost, including the buildout for DV8 Kitchen.
“It’s been really rewarding to see people respond,” he said. “People have been so giving. It’s unbelievable.”
Perez has already hired six “second chance” workers and is looking to hire about two dozen more conventional employees.
The goal is to give the second chance workers a place to learn a skill and a vocation they can be passionate about, he said.
“We know we can run a restaurant and hold people accountable. But the mission is to be a great place to work for everybody, including second chance employees. … We’re talking about people who often can’t get a job but are trying to help themselves,” Perez said. “They’re taking positive steps to change their situation, to deviate from their old lifestyle, and we want to try to help people who are trying to help themselves.”
Sheila Taluskie, job readiness coordinator with Chrysalis House, said often the problem is finding the right atmosphere for returning to work.
“It’s sometimes hard not to be triggered by circumstances in the workplace, other people that might be using (drugs or alcohol) or asking them to use with them,” she said.
DV8 Kitchen, she said, “more than anything, it’s a safe place for women in recovery to be, and they will learn to be effective employees and given support in their recovery.”
Jerod Thomas, president and CEO of Shepherd’s House, said the situation is tougher if those in recovery also have criminal records. But DV8 Kitchen will give them opportunities to move past that, he said.
“Rob got his first two employees from here,” Thomas said. “I think this could be a huge chance.”
Perez agreed but said that they can’t lose sight of the restaurant side of things or the whole plan falls apart. He and Diane have focused on making sure they will be serving really good food.
“We will have honest … authentic food, from scratch,” he said. And the bakery also will do wholesale baking, beginning with his own three Saul Good restaurants.
The menu at DV8 Kitchen will be a kind of breakfast-all-day concept, but with a breakfast burger topped with a fried egg, and other sandwiches and salads, including an orange marmalade chicken sandwich made with a wheat-free batter and topped with a poached egg.
Other specialties will include cinnamon rolls with cream cheese, caramel or chocolate icing; Southern drop biscuits; and grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on French toast (so good that syrup is optional).
DV8 Kitchen will be open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner.
“One of things we found in our research is that the quality of the food and service are important to the guest but just as important to the people who are trying to build pride in their work,” Perez said. “If we dumb down the menu, we’re selling everybody short, the customers and the employees. If you model something of quality, it helps your whole life. So we’re doing it all from scratch.”