Founder Stories: Joe Deloss
Access Ventures wants to celebrate the journey of the individuals behind our investments and partnerships. Founder Stories are a series of conversations with entrepreneurs, partners, and founders in our portfolio. We explore the motivation, inspiration, and innovation that drives the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace, as well as provide insight to balance our regular workdays.
In this Founder Stories, we talked with Joe Deloss, Founder of Hot Chicken Takeover. This fast-casual restaurant serves Nashville-style fried chicken and prides themselves on being a Fair Chance employer. Not only is Hot Chicken Takeover a successful business, it’s a business with purpose — 70 percent of its nearly 50 staffers are individuals who’ve had trouble finding employment due to past incarceration or other factors. Joe also has established various programs to help employees stabilize both personally and professionally from food service training to financial aid. We recently talked with Joe about his business and what makes his team so unique. Here is what he had to say.
How did you come to start a hot chicken restaurant? Was this your first business?
I’ve had a handful of endeavors prior to Hot Chicken Takeover. My very first business was selling snacks from my mom’s pantry in the neighborhood. I had low overhead and high profits, but once my mom caught on, the business folded.
Why Columbus? Did you grow up here? What makes the city special?
I did grow up in Central Ohio and moved around a bit with family before returning. Hands-down the people are what makes Columbus special. It’s an incredibly collaborative and eager community of people.
What are you hoping to accomplish or what kind of impact are you hoping to create through Hot Chicken Takeover?
At Hot Chicken Takeover, creating impact is our goal. Selling chicken gives us the privilege to provide jobs to those who are eager to work and just need a fair chance at employment. That means all candidates get the same consideration when they apply to work for us. Whether they suffered from incarceration, homelessness, or other barriers in their life. We choose to acknowledge the past but to judge candidates on their present and future. With every restaurant we build, we’re creating 50-60 jobs.
At Hot Chicken Takeover, creating impact is our goal.
How does Hot Chicken Takeover help empower its employees?
We try to be the best employer we can for our team. We emphasize clear expectations and pathways for growth alongside providing relevant benefits to aid our employees’ personal and professional growth.
Do you feel profit and impact can coexist?
Yes, I think it’s actually more advantageous for impact.
How would you define an inclusive economy?
An economy that intentionally raises all ships.
How does Hot Chicken Takeover help build a more inclusive economy?
We work hard to level-set with clear expectations to achieve growth within the company and provide a host of relevant benefits to reduce barriers to growth, inside and outside the company’s walls.
How would you define entrepreneurship?
The act of building something that can generate sustainable impact and wealth.
Is there a story you’d like to share about the kind of impact Hot Chicken Takeover creates either in you, your staff, customers or in the world?
This work, and this business, have changed course for my life. I’ve received the best education I could imagine from team members who’ve had a life experience very different than my own. There are countless stories of our team members achieving tremendous things, but they’re not my story to tell.
What’s been the hardest thing about starting a social enterprise?
Much like any other enterprise, I believe the hardest thing about starting is validating your idea. For me, the employment model and HR approach came first, but the chicken was born as the mechanism to prove these ideas could work. After nearly four years of grinding at it, it feels like we’re on our way.
What advice would you give to someone starting their entrepreneurial journey?
Don’t let your ego get in your way. Lean into everything you hear and observe with humility to continuously improve.
Don’t let your ego get in your way. Lean into everything.
Would that advice differ if you knew they were starting a business with a goal of social enterprise?
No, starting a social enterprise takes the same hustle and grind that more traditional for-profit businesses require, perhaps even more.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up early for a workout and some personal time before breakfast with my family. From there, my days vary based on team meetings, restaurant visits, investment pitches, site selection, and the occasional fire to extinguish. We’ve got a tremendous team that helps lead Hot Chicken Takeover, so I try to contribute to anything ‘new’ our business pursues.
What obstacles and barriers did you have to overcome in order to get Hot Chicken Takeover off the ground?
Pretty long list here. What’s important is we’ve leaned into all of them and generally have believed there was always a solution.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an entrepreneur/founder?
That day we signed the lease for our second location. It was a calculated, well-researched risk. But this meant we were taking the leap to scale for growth—which feels like a much bigger undertaking than opening our first location.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself? Why?
Always—the idea of creating impact is the whole reason I got into this business.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is constantly identifying everybody’s best and most impactful use to benefit the business—including my own.
What do you think makes the Hot Chicken Takeover team — and how you all work together — unique?
Our team’s ability to take feedback is a tremendous differentiator. They understand that in order to grow, they have to be receptive to feedback. We provide documented feedback every 30-60 days, which is more actionable than an annual review. By creating a constant feedback loop, it creates a much more engaging environment.
Be humble, work hard.
What advice would you give to someone new joining your team?
Be humble, work hard. Feedback is our vehicle for growth.
What personal rules do you abide by?
I am a big believer in treating others the way you want to be treated. Simple, but something we all easily lose sight of.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
I’m far too early in this game to think of what a legacy would look like—ask me in another 20 years.
What’s next for Hot Chicken Takeover? What excites you about the future of the business?
Right now, we’re working on systems and process so we can buckle up for the next phase of growth. It excites me to know that this growth will spread our impact even wider.