Creating Opportunity Free Enterprise Staff  | March 30, 2019

From Homeless to Hired: This New York Bakery Employs Anyone Who Wants to Work

Dion Drew was reluctantly but seriously considering returning to the drug trade — a life that had landed him in prison for four years in New York. Nine months had passed since his release, and despite his best efforts, he couldn’t find honest work. At every turn, employers, leery of his felony record and criminal past, had turned him down for job opportunities.

Then the phone rang. It was Greyston Bakery.

A few days earlier, Drew had put his name on a list at the small, Yonkers, N.Y.-based company, which embraces a rather unique “open hiring” model. Anyone of legal working age can get a job at the bakery, regardless of their experience or background. No questions asked. No resume needed. Applicants simply have to put their name on a list and wait for a job to become available.

“After I applied, it took about three to four days for them to give me a call back, which was tremendous,” Drew says. “I was riding around with a friend and I was ready to start selling drugs again, to be honest with you. I got that beautiful call, and it’s been glorious ever since.”

One promotion after another, Drew has worked his way up into a management role at Greyston. He’s able to provide for his family without ever again flirting with the wrong side of the law.

“Now I’m able to take care and provide for myself on my own,” said Drew, who has since become a father, as well. “I have a beautiful daughter, I have started a family since I’ve been at Greyston, and I’m able to take care of them – legally,” he says.

Nestled just outside New York City, Greyston is best known for its delicious brownies, 35,000 fragrant pounds of which its workers bake, cool, cut and package every day. The sweet, fudgy treats are sold online and at Whole Foods grocery stores throughout the country.

You may have even tried them without knowing it, as Greyston’s delicious brownies can also be found crushed up and folded into Ben & Jerry’s popular Half-Baked and Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream flavors.

Beyond Greyston’s superb baked goods, the for-profit B Corporation heralds a larger mission through its groundbreaking open hiring model. Core to its social stewardship values, the community-focused company affords eager, would-be workers from all walks of life — including ex-cons like Drew, the homeless, the long-term unemployed and veterans — jobs, paychecks and hope for a better future.

“You don’t need no resumes. You don’t get asked questions. You don’t need to know anything about working,” Drew says. “You just need to come here and show that you want to work.”

Like the chocolaty confections that abound at Greyston (four million pounds of them are baked there annually), Drew’s story has a sweet ending. With gratitude and tears in his eyes, he’s unafraid to express his emotion as he shares his story, something he often does at conferences and other events, including during a recent TED Talk.

Imbued with the independence his position at the bakery has provided, Drew speaks with joy about his young daughter and the ability to properly care for her after leaving behind a life of crime in favor of honest work and a reliable income at Greyston. He beams with pride at having the opportunity to support himself and his loved ones legally.

Inspiring stories like Drew’s – and Greyston’s unique approach to hiring that make them possible – show how business owners, community leaders and local officials can work together to everyone’s benefit, potentially reversing generations of unemployment and poverty.

That sweeping social impact shines through in the bakery’s mission.

As longtime Greyston spokesperson Jonathan Halperin notes, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies; we bake brownies to hire people.”

“We create job opportunities for everyone who’s willing to work, regardless of their background, regardless of their prior criminal record,” he says. “That model creates an opportunity for people who have often been excluded to become a part of the mainstream fabric of economic and cultural life in this country.”

Beyond giving anyone who’s willing to work a job, Greyston bakes in the right infrastructure to make its distinctive open hiring model work in practice.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come back to work without the option of having daycare through Greyston,” says bakery account manager Sunitha Malieckal. “What is amazing about Greyston is that when they try to provide these add-on services, it becomes so much more than just a job.”

Drew echoes that same sentiment.

“I have a lot of friends still in jail, I have a lot of friends that are still selling drugs, I have a lot of friends who died at a young age, and I’m tired of that,” he says, adding: “You’re changing a person’s life by helping them get a job.”

Watch the video above to get a glimpse inside the bustling Greyston Bakery facility in New York and to hear from the folks who’ve benefited from open hiring.