Hot Chicken Takeover Hires Outside The Box

Jordan Bridges is a fried chicken maestro.

From promptly pulling the chicken out of the fryer as soon as the timer goes off, to keeping tempo down the line, carefully applying just the right amount of spice to each order. Top it with a medley of pickles, coleslaw, a generous scoop of mac n’ cheese, and you’ve got the full symphony at Hot Chicken Takeover.

Bridges has been working at the Hot Chicken Takeover located at the Easton Town Center mall in east Columbus for about a year and a half. She said the key is following exactly how much spice each customer wants.

“Some people like their chicken really hot so we give it to them,” she said with a laugh.


Jordan Bridges stands in the kitchen at Hot Chicken Takeover. Before working at the Columbus restaurant she was homeless.


Before she was hired at Hot Chicken Takeover, Jordan was in a much more dire situation.

“I was living in a tent when I first got hired,” said Bridges.

It was October of 2017, and Jordan had been homeless for four months.

“I was desperate. I didn't have a whole lot of options. Winter was coming very quickly and I was kind of worried about freezing to death out there,” she said.

That’s when she met managers from Hot Chicken Takeover at a job fair. The restaurant is what’s known as a “fair chance employer.” This is when a company goes out of its way to intentionally hire people with an adverse background. In Jordan’s case, she was struggling to find a job, and being homeless put her at a disadvantage when it came to applying with other companies.

“They have all these assumptions about you. They think you're dirty. They think you've got problems. They think that you're going to be a danger or trouble to work with,” said Bridges. “And that's honestly not true. Most people that I've come into contact with when I was homeless, they were a lot like me. They just hit a really bad bump in the road and ended up out on the street.”

While some companies might turn away from people who have a tainted work record, fair chance employers seek them out. This could mean someone with a criminal record, felony charges, or a substance abuse disorder.

“I have a record. I'm a recovering addict and I have a record,” said Robyn Williams, who has been working at the shop since September.


Robyn Williams sits on the restaurant floor at Hot Chicken Takeover. She said her past issues with substance abuse and her criminal record made it difficult to land a job.


All the employees rotate positions, but Williams’ favorite spot is the cash register, because she gets to interact with the customers, regulars and first-timers alike.

She said job seekers with a tainted past are treated unfairly.

“My past doesn't define me. It's not who I am,” said Williams. “I made a mistake. It's something I did in my past. And that does not define me, who I am today.”

Williams said she and other people like her are just trying to pull themselves up off the ground, and they just need to be given a shot.

“It definitely built up my self-confidence. Like, okay, I got this job," said Williams. "They’re giving me a chance to shine and that's what I'm doing -- shining.”

Creating a fun, family atmosphere was all part of Joe DeLoss’s vision when he set out to open a Nashville-style chicken joint in Columbus five years ago. And people like this place a lot. Food critics and Yelp users have showered the restaurant with high marks. Hot Chicken Takeover now has three locations in Columbus and they’re set to open a new spot in Cleveland later this year.

DeLoss said the staff has been the key to the success of Hot Chicken Takeover.

“We have a really special group of team members that we believe are extraordinary,” he said. “And so that is really how we've powered our growth and it allows us to play really impactful role in the community.”

DeLoss said people with lapses in their work history or a volatile past may experience a vicious cycle: a person needs a job to get out of their current situation but their circumstances keep them from getting a job.

“We know that a criminal record is often a matter of circumstance not a matter of character,” said DeLoss. “Somebody makes a mistake and gets caught up in something often because of a path that was laid out for them for generations ahead of maybe even their existence. And it changes the trajectory of life in a really unfair inappropriate way.”

Fair chance employment has become especially relevant in the cloud of Ohio’s opioid crisis, with thousands of people finding themselves behind bars or in treatment centers due to addiction. Community advocates say fighting the opioid epidemic is a multi-pronged approach and one of those prongs is making sure those people have a way to get back to work when they’re ready.

Daniel Dew is a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank that partners with a variety of groups on the political spectrum when it comes to criminal justice reform. He said society has failed on this issue for decades, creating a stigma for people with a criminal record and putting up barriers to employment.

“When they can't find work and they may return to crime or they're on public assistance or whatever then we're we throw up our hands and say I told you so I told you that they're not redeemable,” said Dew. “And when we really see that when people are given these second chances when we remove those barriers people can and do succeed.”

Dew said this can become a win-win for businesses and the community, helping grow a competent workforce while also cutting down on crime and recidivism.


Hot Chicken Takeover's Easton Town Center mall location in Columbus.


The practice of fair chance employment is becoming a growing trend in Ohio. There are several restaurants, retail stores, and delivery companies that list themselves as part of the initiative. Job search engines even include the term “fair chance” as keywords and filters on their websites.

As for Bridges, she has a roof over her head again and she’s saving up for her own car. She said she’s just one of several success stories.

“Every time I tell my story that I was living in a tent they congratulate me that I'm doing better now,” Bridges said. “It just feels great to be a part of something that can help uplift the community.”

And to Bridges, Williams, and the rest of employees at Hot Chicken Takeover, it’s a community that’s become family.


Hot Chicken Takeover Locations:

Easton Gateway
4198 Worth Ave
Columbus, OH 43219

North Market
59 Spruce St (second floor)
Columbus, OH 43215

Clintonville
4203 North High St
Columbus, OH 43214

Crocker Park*
177 Market St
Westlake, OH 44145

*Opening Summer 2019

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