Rob Perez is the owner and co-founder of DV8 Kitchen in Lexington. Rob and Diane, founders and owners of Saul Good Restaurant & Pub, are also the parents of a social enterprise. DV8 is a bakery that is known by most for its second chance employment mission. Second chance employment is a specific type of employment for people who need that second chance. Maybe they have lost a job, are addicted to something and now in recovery, or just coming back from a really hard time. This hits close to home for Rob especially.
When Rob was 28, he found himself in a rehab center for alcoholism. From that experience at such a young age in combination with his wife’s dream, they hatched an idea that could really change the food culture for the better. It all came together, “ who we were going to help found us, more than we found it.”
The Lexington community was the perfect place for Rob and Diane to blossom as people and as Christians. A change of employment for Rob was the first thing that brought them to Lexington, but it was the community that kept them in such a great place to raise their family. For Rob and Dianne, the community and the people they met in their church were another driving force and they felt a strong pull to go about their own Christianity in a different way. They could donate money to charities, build wells in third-world countries, but they both had experience and expertise in the food industry and wanted to weave this together to bring something new and unique to the community.
Rob also had an experience when he went for a drive with an undercover policeman. At 2:00 in the afternoon they took a drive together just ten short blocks from where they were having lunch and Rob was shaken by what he saw. “Addiction is the 3rd most important social need we need to figure out.” He had seen with his own eyes the dark corners of a city that both he and his wife loved dearly and this pushed them to take action.
Passion and vision were there, but they still needed funding. First, they put together a budget and figured about $400,000 was needed to make this happen. Then they got creative.
They did some research and approached people from the city of Lexington to get assistance and services. With help from people in the community – who gave time, labor, and services specific to their own industries – their budget went down to $250,000. They started following the path toward a social enterprise. A social enterprise is an organization that uses normal business strategies to maximally improve the financial, environmental, and social well-being for the community. It fit like a glove.
With their ability to now have a positive social impact, they got an interest free loan for five years then approached and found 25 families in Kentucky to give $10,000 each. The state and its people were behind Rob and Dianne and they got amazing support. However, the Perez’ focus isn’t money, “Even if we go down in financial ruin it will be worth it if we help one person.”
Rob and Dianne Perez shine a light on something we can all learn from. As they got their start, they realized they would be creating a really special environment for people who needed help the most. The Bakery came as a meaningful opportunity to train people and give them a trade skill that they could use one day to support themselves and hopefully their families. From there, they actually built a 501c3 within the business due to its charitable message and practices.
Their dream slowly came to a reality but the start was slower than they anticipated. “A few employees, crickets, and tumbleweeds in the restaurant for the first week. I think it’s deeper than our consciousness. You automatically think it’s going to be second-rate food and atmosphere.” As people started to trickle in, they realized that DV8 has great service, tasty food, and a fun environment.
Rob states, “This process has taught me that we, a lot of time, want to have a clean transaction with our giving.’ By this he means writing a check, giving a donation, traveling directly to an impacted area of the world to serve in an effort to donate. While all of these are noble and righteous uses of one’s wealth and generosity, Rob and Dianne wanted more for their own experiences.
Rob reflected on his experience so far, “I wanted to figure out my Christianity from day to day and not confine it to the church walls. I didn’t want to compartmentalize. This is the most satisfying vocational environment that I’ve ever been a part of. While I’m not making any money and I”m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, I am fulfilled. I am more gratified and I feel like I am going to be a better business guy.”
One person at a time. The people who are disenfranchised need jobs, need love, and need accountability. Rob and Dianne have already made such a meaningful impact on the Lexington community and have helped their customers grow in more ways than just a trip to the bakery. “I think people are liking both the mission and the food. It’s starting to come together.”