Change Agents: Joe DeLoss, Nobul

Melissa Kossler Dutton, Capital Style

When Joe DeLoss went to Nashville in late 2013, he became enamored with the food-particularly the fried chicken.

Upon his return to Columbus, the social enterprise consultant decided to add perfecting fried chicken to his already full plate.

"I had the desire to have another business-to become an employer," says DeLoss who, in 2009, worked with Lutheran Social Services to start a catering company that provides transformative employment opportunities for residents of Faith Mission homeless shelters. (That would be Fresh Box, for Downtown diners who are in the know.) "We were actively seeking an idea that could make us an employer," DeLoss adds.

With the understanding that food service offers solid workforce-training opportunities, DeLoss decided to launch a for-profit business that focused on serving great chicken and providing jobs for adults with barriers to work.

Hot Chicken Takeover, which began as a pop-up restaurant in Olde Towne East, sold its first chicken dinner in March 2014. Customers gobbled up DeLoss' spicy chicken-a recipe he crafted from trial and error-and coleslaw and macaroni and cheese-made from his grandmother's recipes. Demand was so great DeLoss started serving every Saturday and Sunday at the Columbus Food Hub on the near East Side.

He enlisted community partners to help find potential workers looking for something more than a job. Many of his employees are rebuilding lives after spending time in prison or overcoming other challenges. The restaurant, which employs 30 people, moved into a permanent space in the North Market late last year.

DeLoss-who recently branded his social enterprises under the umbrella of Nobul-helps employees set personal and employment goals. Hot Chicken Takeover makes interest-free loans to employees and will contribute money to employees' savings accounts.

"It's a work environment that's not for everybody," DeLoss says. "You're going to get feedback. Everybody is fair game. Everybody has room to grow, including myself."

Why do you do this work?

I had always volunteered but never felt like I was contributing to a long-term solution. If you serve food to the hungry, it's needed, but it's not going to eradicate hunger. I wanted to find a way to use my skill set in sustainable way.

What lessons have you learned?

There are so many lessons-how to fry chicken for one. More importantly, though, I'm learning to let go of the desire to control everything. I have confidence and trust in the team we've built-I wonder if we would have gone further faster if I would have relinquished more control sooner.

What has been your most fulfilling moment?

We had the opportunity to provide housing for two of our guys. The place needed some work, and over half our team volunteered to help fix it up. That they did that for their coworkers-it's a really cool thing. There was a moment when we were in that house and I thought, "This is unbelievable. The generosity of our team to come together like this." It made me feel like we had fostered something special.

What are you long-term goals?

We're still rolling out specifics, but long-term goals for HCT involve more restaurants, extra leaders and additional mentors. Bottom line, we want to keep this team growing.

What other change agents or social entrepreneurship projects inspire you?

In the social-enterprise food scene, I really admire Brandon Chrostowski from Edwins in Cleveland. I also respect the hustle and spirit of local leaders like Tony Wells, a nationally known social enterprise innovator, and John Rush, CEO of CleanTurn.

Joe DeLoss

Age: 30

Residence: Merion Village

Job: founder, Nobul