O, The Oprah Magazine (USA)


The Kentucky restaurate­urs helping staffers reclaim their lives from addiction.


At Kentucky’s DV8 Kitchen, the specialty is fresh pastries—and fresh starts.

ONE SUNNY DAY in the fall of 2017, Jarod Thornton was halfhearte­dly slapping caramel sauce on cinnamon rolls when his boss, Rob Perez, remarked that the pastries were short on pecans. Thornton, now 35, got defensive, saying, “I didn’t make the topping; I just put it on the roll.” He then braced himself to get fired, one more rung down the ladder of selfsabota­ge: He’d gone from running his own web developmen­t company to losing custody of his son, to briefly being homeless since he couldn’t pay rent, to relapsing with alcohol every 30 days during a string of recovery attempts.

But Perez surprised him by saying, “I know you have potential, but you can’t act like this if you want the other kids on the playground to push you on the swing.” Thornton, who’d had a tumultuous childhood and first tried crack cocaine at age 12, fled to the bathroom and cried. “Instead of letting me go,” Thornton says, “he challenged me to stick with this.”

“This” is DV8 Kitchen, a casual eatery Perez and his wife, Diane, opened in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2017. All but one of its 24 employees are recovering from addiction. The service industry can be a breeding ground for risky behavior: “The combinatio­n of youthful staff, a flexible schedule, late hours, and access or proximity to drugs and alcohol creates a perfect environmen­t for addiction to begin,” says Rob.

The couple, who have a 19-yearold daughter and a 13-year-old son, have seen the connection firsthand. In 2013, they discovered that a server was using heroin in the women’s restroom at one of their three successful restaurant­s in Lexington; three years later, a cook fatally

overdosed on opioids. They tallied up 13 employees who had died from addiction throughout their ten years in the business.

“I remembered visiting a café in Cincinnati that employed people to get them off the street, and I told Rob we should do something like that,” Diane says. Rob, a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober since 1990, had reservatio­ns. But Diane was determined and even arranged a police ride-along through parts of Lexington where street corners were dotted with people looking to fund their next drug fix through prostituti­on. She wanted to remind him of the desperatio­n involved in addiction—and how much support is needed to overcome it.

Rob came around, and the two partnered with residentia­l rehab facilities to find and hire staff in recovery. They created policies aimed at transformi­ng the restaurant environmen­t from enabling to empowering: paying employees more than they’d make at a local chain to help with treatment costs and boost self-esteem, adding tips to paychecks to eliminate the temptation of buying drugs with cash, serving only breakfast and lunch to leave evenings free for support groups, and hosting workshops on topics from mindfulnes­s to expunging criminal records.

DV8 is now a top-rated restaurant. Some patrons enjoy its curry veggie tacos unaware of its social purpose, but many others are there for the mission as much as the menu.

“Along with the support from Rob, Diane, and their coworkers, employees feel that the community believes in them, which is incredibly powerful,” says Tonya Jernigan, clinical director of Chrysalis House, a women’s treatment center in Lexington. “DV8 is about much more than a steady job; it’s created a space in the world for people in recovery— showing them their lives matter and that they can still do important things.” —KATE ROCKWOOD

They don’t have to do this. They’re living the American dream, with a family and successful restaurant­s, and they’ve chosen to work with us.


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 ??  ?? From left: Diane and Rob at work; DV8’s beloved cinnamon rolls made with croissant dough; the mostly local weekday breakfast crowd.
From left: Diane and Rob at work; DV8’s beloved cinnamon rolls made with croissant dough; the mostly local weekday breakfast crowd.

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