Restaurant Industry Celebrates Successful Path to Jobs and Careers for Justice-Involved Individuals

Washington, D.C. – October 13, 2022 – Fifty representatives from across the country joined the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) in Washington, D.C., last week to celebrate the success of the Foundation’s HOPES program, which has enrolled over 700 justice-involved individuals, connecting them with career opportunities and a road to independence in the restaurant, foodservice, and hospitality industry.


The Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society (HOPES) program represents a collaborative effort across seven states to identify, train, employ, and ultimately advance justice-involved individuals seeking independence and a career path in the restaurant industry. Launched in 2019 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, HOPES facilitates work-readiness and restaurant industry-specific training through its network of state Departments of Corrections, state restaurant associations, and 13 community-based organizations. Once training is complete, the program connects participants with opportunities through its network of local and national employer partners, including MOD Pizza, Inspire Brands, and Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation.

“I think it is important to extend opportunities to people regardless of what they’ve been through or mistakes they’ve made,” said Deirdra Flowers, who is the HOPES Supervisor at Chicago’s Lawrence Hall, a HOPES community partner site. “Employers should really take advantage of this opportunity because these individuals are good workers. They are dedicated. But also, it’s important to be the person who says, ‘It’s ok. I want to help you.’”

HOPES partner sites like Lawrence Hall work in conjunction with local Departments of Corrections to identify potential candidates for the program. Upon enrollment, these individuals receive restaurant-industry specific training in six work-ready competency areas using the NRAEF’s Restaurant Ready framework. HOPES community partners then provide participants with additional wraparound services, employment placement, and follow-up support, while local employment partners further engage participants with hands-on foodservice training and opportunities to build their career knowledge.

“HOPES is bringing the restaurant industry together with community stakeholders to give justice-involved individuals an opportunity to carve out a future and a career,” said Rob Gifford, president of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to gather HOPES stakeholders, participants, and alumni in Washington to celebrate the program’s wins and its work to create pathways of opportunity for everyone who wants to be part of our industry.”

Chef LaKisha Hunter in kitchen with produce

Chef LaKisha Hunter trains HOPES participants at her food trailer, That Jerk Spot LLC.

During the Washington event, participants and alumni of the program, as well as case managers, restaurant industry partners, and officials from local Departments of Corrections enjoyed three days of workshops, networking, and events. Highlights included a reentry simulation aimed at replicating some of the challenges justice-involved individuals face when reentering society, as well as a special cooking demo where HOPES participants showcased their culinary skills using a list of mystery ingredients. Attendees were also treated to a special session exploring motivation and resilience with HOPES alum Ernest Green, who is currently working at MOD Pizza, and Chicago Chef Lakisha Hunter, who trains HOPES participants at her food trailer, That Jerk Spot LLC.

“HOPES is needed,” said Hunter, who was a young gang member before joining her high school’s ProStart culinary arts program. In addition to her current food trailer, she has owned a restaurant, taught culinary arts in Chicago public schools, and recently started a non-profit, Rise Above the Ordinary. “Just to know that these individuals have a second chance and don’t need to be held for the rest of their lives for a mistake they made. They did their time, were punished for it, and can now move forward.”

Green, who was connected to the HOPES program at Chicago’s Lawrence Hall through his pre-trial officer, said, “When you’re there in person and experiencing it, I think it’s almost surreal to see so many lives being changed one-by-one, and I’m just completely thankful for what they [Lawrence Hall and HOPES] have done to help me.” Since joining MOD Pizza, Green has been promoted multiple times and now serves as a training manager.

HOPES is 100% funded through two grants, in the amounts of $4,499,472 and $4 million, awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. Learn more about HOPES at Visit to learn more about the NRAEF and its work to provide access to meaningful jobs and careers in restaurant and foodservice.

About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation:

As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) mission of service to the public is dedicated to enhancing the industry’s training and education, career development and community engagement efforts. The NRAEF and its programs work to Attract, Empower and Advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. NRAEF programs include: ProStart® – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready – partnering with community based organizations to provide “opportunity youth” with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and the Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center (RHLC) – accredited apprenticeship programs designed to build the careers of service professionals. For more information on the NRAEF, visit

Click here for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s 2021 Annual Impact Report. 


Hannah Oliver

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