In business, taking a chance on an unusual or even counter-intuitive business strategy can pay off. As one restaurant in Honolulu has learned, there are benefits in addition to financial gains--a unique approach can also do a lot of social good.
Seed Restaurant is like other restaurants in a lot of ways; except for this one little thing: it's staffed primarily by prostitutes, convicts, homeless individuals, and others in need of gainful employment and a second chance.
As noted on its Indiegogo page, the one-year old restaurant "exists to provide rehabilitative employment, job training, advancement, life skills development, and a supportive community to individuals who need an alternative and an opportunity to flourish."
More than Good Food
Good food is at the heart of every successful restaurant, but Seed is more than a place to grab a bite to eat. Founders Jordan and Sonya Seng have taken a unique approach in an industry where it can be difficult to stand out.
As community leaders of a nondenominational church, the Sengs are experienced in assisting at-risk individuals. Through the use of recovery homes, they know what it takes to house and counsel people who are looking to turn their life around.
What they couldn't figure out (until now) was how to help these people find a job. Unable to identify an existing solution that made sense for the people in their area, they set out to create one. Seed was born.
Unusual Can Work
Now, most restaurateurs would be terrified of this business model. With margins already paper thin, taking a risk on your people is out of the question for most restaurants--and businesses in general.
However, unusual can work with the right plan in place. Seed is doing so much more than hiring at-risk individuals for menial, low-wage work, as restaurant employment tends to be.
Each new hire is paired with an experienced worker, who takes them under their wing and provides training. As they learn new skills and advance through the ranks, employees become more self-sufficient and independent.
Mary Nelson, for example, is a Seed Restaurant employee who spoke with the Huffington Post about her experience with the company. Too intimidated to face customers in the front, the 53-year old started out washing dishes in the back of house for her first six months. She had been a prostitute since she was just fourteen.
Now one of the most popular waitresses in the restaurant, Nelson eventually became comfortable in her new role--and in her new life. Seed Restaurant gave her the space and time to rebuild her confidence and learn new skills, but also helped her earn a living while she did it.
Jordan and Sonya's business strategy is an incredible example of the power of doing good for people, but it's just as much business brilliance. They're building a brand culture that is genuine and true, creating fiercely loyal employees who are inspired and compelled to do their best for the company.
We tend to invest heavily in finding just the right employees, but many companies forget there's real value in building people up, as well. Seed Restaurant's people don't come in the door all-stars, but they enter hungry to learn. And they stay.
The social aspect, of course, has generated no small amount of social media goodwill and positive PR for the fledgling restaurant. At this point, their chances of not only surviving their startup but thriving for years to come are looking pretty awesome.