“I was incredibly discouraged,” says Tyiesha Henley of Chicago. After serving time in prison for retail theft, a conviction she received at age 19, Henley found it almost impossible to secure a job. “I paid my debt,” Henley says. “I’m here to be a productive citizen.” But, second chances were hard to come by — until she met Deno Andrews of Oak Park.
Andrews interviewed Henley, through the Safer Foundation, and hired her to work at Felony Franks (6427 W. North Avenue, Oak Park). Felony Franks is a community-based restaurant focused on helping ex-offenders get a second chance through meaningful employment. “It gave me hope all over again,” says Henley.
“More than 20,000 people every year return from prison to the Chicago community,” says Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. He cites the popular quote: “Man can live for about 40 days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but for only one second without hope.”
Andrews provides these individuals with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have to reintegrate into society. “I commend Deno Andrews for his vision,” Boykin says. “We need more people like him who aren’t afraid to take a chance on someone coming out of a correction facility.”
Twenty years ago, his family business, Andrews Paper Company, opened down the street from a halfway house. People released from prison or substance abuse programs came in looking for jobs.
“I was originally very resistant to the idea of hiring ex-offenders,” admits Andrews. “I had the perception that they were going to steal from us.”
Fortunately for the applicants, Andrews’ father, Jim, had a kind heart. He insisted everyone deserved a second chance.
“We didn’t have any problems,” Andrews says. “Some of the people worked for our store for many years, went on to be managers and are now like parts of our family.”
Felony Franks in Oak Park is actually a reopening of the original concept Jim Andrews launched on the west side of Chicago a several years prior. Unfortunately, crime in the area caused the Chicago location to close its doors. But Deno Andrews decided to give the restaurant a second chance in Oak Park after he had a serious realization at age 43.
He thought, “My life is probably more than half over and I haven’t done anything to change the world for the better. I get paid very well and have a lot of power, but what I’m doing just doesn’t mean anything.”
Andrews felt compelled to make a difference in the community and set a positive example for his children. “I don’t want my kids growing up with no idea what daddy does or the impact I am making,” Andrews says. “I want them to be inspired, take the privilege that’s been handed down to them and share it with people who don’t have as much.”
Felony Franks Oak Park opened its doors in February 2015. All seven employees have criminal records. They serve “Misdemeanor Wiener” hot dogs and fries, “Parolish” sausages, “Shake Down” milkshakes and “Big House Beef” sandwiches, to name a few of the more popular menu items.
In addition to teaching his staff how to work in the restaurant, Andrews is committed to providing them with enough business knowledge and acumen to one day run their own restaurants. Through the Rescue Foundation, Andrews’ own “boots-on-the-ground” 501c3 charity, employees receive not only business training, in topics such as budgeting and finance, but help with life issues such as anger management and tax accounting.
“A lot of people coming out of jail still have some of the same characteristics that got them there in the first place,” says Andrews. “I want to give them the support and teaching network to help ensure they aren’t in the same situation again.”
How you can help
1. Dine at Felony Franks. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
2. Donate to the Rescue Foundation.
3. Volunteer to share your expertise.
- Lawyers, accountants and business professionals can train on attaining business and life goals.
- Human resource professionals can teach employees about hiring processes and preparing for interviews.
- English teachers can provide vocabulary and enunciation tutoring.
4. Improve your own company’s policies regarding individuals with criminal records. Andrews says he is 100 percent available to provide input and assistance. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-420-5659.
“We all need to make the world a little better than we found it,” Boykin says. Henley confirms that Andrews and his restaurant give hope and inspiration to many. “I’m able to support my family now,” says Henley. “All the employees at Felony Franks feel like kids at Christmas.”