In Lexington, Kentucky, DV8 Kitchen is serving up more than just delicious meals. DV8 Kitchen provides second-chance employment opportunities to people in the early stages of substance abuse recovery. Meet DV8 founder Rob Perez (pictured top, left), AARP’s 2024 Purpose Prize Fellow and learn about his mission.
If there was a dish that described the work you do, what would it be?
It’s like our signature bread pudding, crafted from the remnants of our popular cinnamon rolls (made with 70 different layers of dough!) At first, we threw out day-old cinnamon rolls. That was wasteful, so we started adding cream, eggs, and sugar and baked that into a bread pudding.
Just like our cinnamon rolls, we used to throw away people after they made mistakes. However, we’ve learned that, much like Pain Perdu, these individuals, after going through recovery, are often better than they were originally made.
How did DV8 Kitchen begin? Why the name?
The idea for DV8 Kitchen was my wife’s. In the past, I dismissed employees too quickly; I started looking at why we were losing them. It was surprising…not everyone knew how to be on time! The name “DV8” was crafted by my wife and two friends, a nod to the couple who introduced us. It’s a departure from the norm, like our commitment to offering second chances.
How has your own recovery journey influenced your approach to running DV8 Kitchen?
My personal journey in addiction recovery prompted a paradigm shift in my approach. I realized that respecting anonymity while providing transparent support was vital. DV8 Kitchen focuses on clear, definable recovery and holds employees to remain accountable in recovery. This approach has led to employees staying for 11 months, compared to the previous two-week average.
How important was food/cooking to you growing up? What was your favorite dish at home?
Growing up with a Mexican heritage—my mom is the daughter of a California farmer, and my dad came from Mexican farm workers—that’s the biggest influence, It’s not one dish it’s every dish. My love for Mexican flavors and tortillas is a constant in my life; I incorporate them into my dishes at DV8 Kitchen.
Tell us about how DV8 Kitchen’s employment model evolved.
DV8 Kitchen initially provided safe housing and behavior modification. As it evolved, we realized the importance of focusing on our core mission: running a good restaurant. We now collaborate with experts in residential living to provide a holistic support system. By echoing the principles of recovery at work, we are able to help employees build a lifestyle of recovery.
DV8 Kitchen has worked with over 100 local businesses to offer second-chance opportunities. How has that been working?
Our collaboration with local businesses is mutually beneficial. DV8 Kitchen provides reliable, skilled employees, while organizations contribute to the community by offering second chances. It’s a win-win. The partnerships emphasize the importance of supporting those in recovery.
Can you describe a moment or experience that reinforced your commitment to this mission?
There was an employee who left DV8 Kitchen, only to tragically overdose later. This loss underscored the significance of our mission. It reminds me of the responsibility I carry to help people in their journey to recovery. It’s my privilege and obligation. It’s my responsibility to understand the weight of this – not to put rules over people. Over 10% of the population is unemployable because of their past…and people change.
What challenges have you faced in scaling DV8 Kitchen, particularly in opening a second location?
Opening a second location during the COVID-19 pandemic presented unforeseen challenges. It was a risky decision, but our commitment to second chances prevailed. Despite initial difficulties, we managed to stay profit-neutral while continuing to serve our mission.
How do you stay healthy? How does your local community support DV8 Kitchen?
I stay active through running, sports, and outdoor activities with my family.
Local residents can get involved with DV8 by volunteering or supporting the mission through online donations. We also encourage businesses interested in our work to become second-chance employers.
What does “aging with attitude mean to you”?
To me, “aging with attitude” means embracing patience, empathy, and perspective. These qualities have been pivotal in my journey with DV8 Kitchen, enabling me to work in a thriving community that believes in second chances.
Want to Help?
DV8 Kitchen offers gift boxes of homemade jams or chocolate chip cookies at their website here. Local Kentucky residents can get involved with DV8 by volunteering or supporting the mission through online donations or by joining or supporting DV8 Kitchen’s 6th annual DV8K Life Changing Run on August 24, 2024. Local residents – or virtual participants can sign up here.
The AARP Purpose Prize Fellows Program is an initiative that provides individuals with opportunities for personal and professional growth, leadership development, and the chance to work on projects that align with AARP’s mission and goals. It is a separate program from AARP’s Purpose Prize Program.
NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black writer, holds a Master’s in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and Bachelor’s in Visual Advertising from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been published in Eater, The Cincinnati Review, and others. Learn more at nabeelawashington.com.