By Kelsey Trotter
Mark Twain said, “An antidote to prejudice is travel.” If you go to a foreign country, you eat their food, talk with their people, and immerse yourself in a new culture. You start to have a better understanding of their way of life. Twain’s wisdom works as an antidote to the stigma surrounding addiction, too.
So says Rob Perez. He has been in the food service business his entire adult life. He currently owns three restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky. As the addiction crisis swept the country, it impacted restaurants like Rob’s as well. He would catch people doing heroin in the bathroom. He lost 16 employees to accidental overdoses. Sixteen.
Rob and his wife, Diane, talked about the vicious cycle of addiction. People in recovery can’t get a job or can’t keep a job, and oftentimes they can’t secure a home. So Diane asked her husband an important question, “Why shouldn’t we help?”
Despite being in recovery himself, at the time Rob didn’t understand addiction as the chronic, relapsing brain disease that it is. He did not want people in recovery working in his kitchen. He worried that it would be bad for business... ”I’m the poster child for stigma,” said Rob. “I didn’t want to do it. I was the problem that I speak of.”
But Diane was persistent. She had traveled to that difficult world called addiction, seen it first hand, and also witnessed recovery - her husband’s recovery. “I have the business brains; my wife has the heart of gold.”
They created DV8 Kitchen. A restaurant on a mission for good, and one that would hire people directly from recovery centers. DV8 Kitchen has three conditions for work. One, employees have to stay in a recovery house. Two, they have to show up to work. And three, they have to provide DV8 with drug screen results. They also need to be open about their journeys, consider allowing contact with their social worker or case manager, and share their plans for long-term recovery.
DV8 is now thriving. Out of their 24 employees, 23 are in recovery. The average tenure rate and turnover rate are both a third better than the national average. DV8 Kitchen is now the 40th highest rated restaurant in the country, according to Yelp. The DV8 model is living proof of the statistic that a person is 75 percent more likely to get help if it comes from a boss than if it comes from family. The job helps validate the recovery. “When you’re average and you hire someone who is trying to recreate how they live, if you show them average you’re asking them to be average. If you show them 20 percent better than average they’re going to learn how to work 20 percent better.” It doesn’t hurt that DV8 also pays 20 percent more than the local competition.
To deviate is to stray from the standard course, and Rob and Diane wanted to convey that idea with addiction. “You can deviate from going down to going up. We want to show that folks here at DV8 have an unlimited capacity for success,” said Rob. DV8 employees not only cook and serve food, but they interact with guests, and share their stories, allowing the community to see what recovery truly looks like, to see their world in a new way.
DV8 Kitchen was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
Prior to joining the Addiction Policy Forum as the Coordinator of Digital Marketing and Public Relations, Kelsey was the communications fellow at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Kelsey is passionate about storytelling and brings her creativity and effective communication skills to her work at Addiction Policy Forum. Kelsey received her Bachelors degree from Michigan State University and moved to Washington, DC to leave a positive impact on the world.