To be hired at Greyston Bakery, you don’t need qualifications, you don’t need a resumé, you don’t need an employment history and you don’t need to attend an interview. You just need to show up.
Founder Bernie Glassman sought to build a productive, profitable social enterprise that would create a more inclusive economy in his hometown with each dessert baked in the company’s ovens. Thirty-three years ago, Greyston adopted its Open Hiring policy to provide jobs to Yonkers’ chronically unemployed workforce. Open Hiring is a simple idea. Come to the bakery and write your name on a waiting list. When your name reaches the top, you’ll get a job. Criminal history, homelessness, lack of education, limited English or past drug abuse don’t matter. Greyston doesn’t even ask.
Every day, employees bake, package and ship 35,000 pounds of Greyston brownies destined to be an ingredient in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with baked goods that are sold online or at Whole Foods Markets.
How Greyston Bakery Creates Jobs for Ex-Convicts
People come to bake Greyston brownies for a second chance. Lamont Dandridge did time for drug dealing. While incarcerated, he says, “I really did a lot of soul-searching. I picked up books. I thought about my life.” But six years after his release, he was still unemployed; one company hired him, only to dismiss him three days later when his background check arrived.
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He had given up and sat around playing video games all day when he saw a TV news story about Dion Drew.
Drew had also done time for drug crimes and had bounced between the street and prison until Greyston hired him in 2009. At Greyston he had found a stable income, meaningful work and a more purposeful life. His story prompted Dandridge to put his name on the Open Hiring list. “Dion’s my supervisor now,” he says. “I’m trying to learn everything here. There’s nothing but forward motion.”
CEO Mike Brady wants to persuade more companies to embrace Open Hiring by showing how well it works at Greyston. His 144 team members were once labeled “unemployable,” but now they are the backbone of a profitable company.
Still, Brady acknowledges that “a paying job’s not the be-all and end-all to getting people out of poverty.” So Greyston Bakery also offers employee-support services, such as child care, health services and affordable housing for workers and others through the nonprofit Greyston Foundation. And the bakery’s PathMaking program guides workers in continuing education, GED com
pletion, nutrition and personal finance to help them become more self-sufficient.
“Change and social justice need to be on a faster pace than is currently happening,” Brady says, arguing that adoption of Open Hiring could raise hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. In a 2015 TED talk, Brady issued a challenge to Fortune 500 companies: if each chooses one vendor that develops the Open Hiring model, in 10 years 100,000 jobs will be created for the seemingly unemployable, returning $750 million to local economies. “That’s my challenge to folks. Pick up the phone and call me, and I’ll help you.”
This article originally appeared as one of four companies employing the “unemployable” and creating an inclusive economy in the Pathways department of the Summer 2016 issue of B Magazine. Read about the other companies profiled: Cascade Engineering, Jack’s Bar & Grill, and Community Home Care Associates.