Brothers Pizza hires those with criminal backgrounds

Brothers Pizza hires employees with criminal backgrounds looking to improve

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Rob and Meredith Kendall Rob and Meredith Kendall
FRANKLIN, TN (WSMV) -

A pizza parlor in Franklin has some interesting restrictions when it comes to hiring. The owners look for one specific credential - one from which many employers would shy away.

It is so daring, so risky and yet so generous to actually prefer employees with criminal records.

Brothers' Pizza Company on State Route 96 is run by Rob and Meredith Kendall.

Rob Kendall was a remodeler and Meredith was a successful real estate agent. While they made lots of money, they say they felt spiritually poor.

"I just said, 'We are done. We are done.' I was tired of making money and keeping up with the rat race of every day," Meredith Kendall said. "We would go to church on Sunday and on Monday be back to what we doing. So I said, 'Let's stop and take a year off and see what God wants us to do.'"

And then everything changed.

First, they started helping single moms and somehow that led to prisons, where they decided they could teach faith-based job skills for inmates.

It went pretty well, but not well enough.

"We were watching people repeat, and we didn't know why. And they were saying, 'Meredith, we didn't have a chance. No one would give us a job,'" Meredith Kendall said.

So they took a big problem and solved it in an unlikely way.

They couldn't afford a job training center, but they could afford a pizza parlor. They bought Brothers' Pizza and started helping a certain kind of ex-con.

"We want to see someone who is tired of their life as it was and now says, 'I want to get back on my feet,'" Rob Kendall said.

"We have a rule. We will invest in you as much as you will invest in yourself," Meredith Kendall said.

Take, for example, Brian Lapham. He is a master pizza maker, but when he walked through the door, he knew he would have to explain what he says are drug charges from high school.

"I was worried, 'What am I going to do for a job? How am I going to get a new job, if I have to put in a resume and they are looking into my background?'" Lapham said.

But in this unconventional business, the manager - the keeper of the money - is a convicted thief. Of course, Tanika Cox is no ordinary thief.

She says she was a desperate mother whose husband's illness was going to cost them everything. So, on the verge of homelessness, she says she stole from her employer for the first and last time.

The Kendalls saw someone who wanted to get her life back together, so they hired Cox.

"It means a lot. I'm going somewhere. I feel like I am accomplishing something. I feel like they saved me from hitting bottom," Cox said.

Cox is still on probation, but now work is her sanctuary.

"This place is like therapy for me," she said.

Brothers' Pizza has never suffered a single theft, and the Kendalls say their job skills curriculum is now in 31 prisons in six states.

They say the recidivism rate in their program is 8 percent.

The Tennessee Department of Correction says the state-wide recidivism rate is about 46 percent.

"I'm still dealing with my past and court costs. It's still rough, but it's easier when you have people backing you up and helping you," Lapham said.

The Kendalls call their program Against the Grain. If you would like to learn more, visit: http://www.atghope.org.

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