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Once Homeless, Youth Seizes Job Opportunity and Gives Back

Dante Wilson and Nick Bayer

Dante Wilson and Nick Bayer

During his senior year in high school, Dante Wilson started living in Covenant House, a Philadelphia shelter for homeless youth.

One day Colleen Landy, who was Program Director of the shelter, told Dante that he was going to meet with an area CEO coming to interview potential employees.

Colleen had called Nick Bayer, CEO of Saxbys, a Philadelphia-based hospitality company with 30 locations. Colleen asked Nick to get involved with the homeless shelter. She wanted to give young people an opportunity to mainstream, get jobs and have real lives outside the shelter.

“I told Colleen I’d be there the next morning, and I told her to have the most hirable person ready for me,” Nick said. “So I get there, look in the window of this little conference room in the homeless shelter and Dante is sitting in a room by himself, in a blazer smiling. You go in thinking it will be a sad place and there is a young man by himself with a huge smile on his face. I saw him smiling, and I knew I was going to hire him.”

“Mr. Nick Bayer walked in there. I see this tall slicked-back hair, done up guy and thought I won’t get the job,” Dante said. “But I got it. And once Saxbys became part of my life everything happened.”

Nick hired Dante for one of his café’s— in Rittenhouse Square Philadelphia. Dante didn’t have job experience so he started with cleaning the café and busing tables.

Nick called his franchisee a week after Dante started to see how things were going. The franchisee said they were going so well that they’d decided to put Dante through barista training. A month later the team wanted to create a team member of the month award just so Dante could see how appreciative they were of his incredible work ethic. Dante wound up winning the award seven months straight.

Nick said Dante was a star and quickly moved from identifying himself as a kid from a homeless shelter to an MVP in the organization. Dante has been promoted multiple times during his five years at Saxbys. Nick relayed the company regularly gets emails from guests praising Dante, and it’s not often people email a coffee shop about how much they love one particular team member– but Dante is that type of guy.

When asked what he learned from Nick, Dante said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day. You have to work.” And Nick said that Dante has worked hard and earned his career and promotions.

Jobs change lives. Hiring Dante changed his life. That in and of itself is wonderful. Even better is that from there it led Nick to hiring many other young people who might otherwise find it challenging to get a job.

Once a mentee, Dante is now taking a lead in Saxbys mentoring program to mentor youth like him who are coming from difficult situations and starting their jobs and lives at Saxbys.

Nick says that some of the youth “coming out of challenging circumstances need to be treated a little bit differently than other employees. They need to learn how to show up on time, how to plan time to get from where they are to work, how to use a paycheck properly.” That’s where the mentoring comes in. “ The youth are marginalized and they think normal society isn’t right for them. For example, where they grew up, smiling at people and being nice is seen as a weakness. At Saxbys it’s required and a critical component of the company’s culture.” Fortunately, Saxbys takes the time to teach.

“I want to make an impact in the city. It breaks my heart to see homeless young people sleeping on the streets and a 15 year-old sticking a gun in someone’s face for money,” Nick said. “Kids surrounded by bad circumstances, see no hope…. I witnessed this first hand… now I can do something about that, and I’m going to continue to do something about that…. I don’t want to do the easy thing; I want to do the right thing. We employ 450 people and most of those jobs are entry level. We can make an effort to hire people who need help for some of those positions. We can teach life skills… My responsibility as a business leader is to be additive and provide them with opportunity and hold them accountable. If they do well, they’ll be promoted here or we’ll give them great references, so they can succeed somewhere else.”

“Saxbys changed my perspective and my world,” Dante said. “If it weren’t for Nick, I’d probably still be living on the streets. To this day I’m like ‘oh my God, I’m the luckiest guy in the world’”

I’ll drink to that . . . at Saxbys!

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