Chattanooga bakery gives former convicts a second chance
If you've ever filled out a job application, you've likely answered the question 'have you ever been convicted of a felony'? The answer keeps many people out of a job, but the City of Chattanooga’s Office of Public Safety is trying to change that.
The Office of Public Safety is hosting a “Power of Hope” reception on Thursday night to encourage businesses to hire formerly incarcerated people. Business owners will also hear from Erik Zilen, owner of Niedlov’s Breadworks.
At Niedlov’s, baking bread is all about precision, patience and love. Zilen says every employee has to learn.
"Everybody gets treated the same, the most important thing is you learn how to bake,” he said.
When some of those bakers walkthrough Niedlov's doors, they've just walked out of somewhere very different.
"We've had people that have served over thirty years in prison, and people that have served five months,” Zilen said.
In the past five years, he’s hired more than 20 former inmates. When they're looking for a second chance, he's there.
"They're eager to be like ‘how do I get moving forward, how do I start again.’ And that often starts with a job,” Zilen said.
Some of his employees have applied for 10 or 20 jobs before finding the bakery. Other business owners see risk instead of opportunity.
"It's a huge missed opportunity for our community not to take risks on folks just because they've been labeled a risky population,” Zilen said.
He’s encouraging other businesses to hire more former prisoners. But at Niedlov’s, a job is just the beginning. The bakery gives people a table to gather around and a community to share their burden.
"Bakeries have always been unique in that way, in that we always share a table to work with, to work at,” Zilen said.
He hopes as they work, the job will become so much more than baking bread.
The "Power of Hope" reception is on Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Family Justice Center. For more information, call 423-643-6705.