Hot Chicken with a Mission


Hot Chicken Takeover is a local culinary staple. And yet for much of his career, owner Joe DeLoss wasn’t thinking about chicken.


His first job out of college was as an investment banking analyst. Less than two years in, he felt disillusioned and wanted to make a more meaningful impact. So he left.


“I got really invested in this idea of sustainable impact,” says Joe, who knew he wanted to build a business committed to meaningful employment opportunities for underserved communities. DeLoss immersed himself in the Columbus nonprofit world and took a position as Director of Social Enterprise at Lutheran Social Services. Here, he launched Freshbox Catering, a boxed lunch catering service in Columbus. Through networking with other nonprofits, he also built a connection with Steve Fireman at ECDI, who shared Joe’s passion to serve.


Enter Hot Chicken

After a trip to Nashville in 2013, DeLoss got the idea for a fried chicken chain focused on fair chance employment, meaning he would give every applicant an equal chance, even if they had a criminal record or other barrier to finding a job. In April of 2014, with help from ECDI and The Business of Good Foundation, Hot Chicken Takeover opened their first popup in the Old Towne East area of Columbus and quickly gained recognition for great food and an even greater emphasis on community.


“We built Hot Chicken Takeover to be a community business, both in the spirit of how we serve guests and also in the spirit of how we serve our employees and our neighbors. And our first popup was successful because of the people,” says DeLoss.

As the company expanded to new locations, that philosophy never changed. Adrian Miller, General Manager of Hot Chicken Takeover’s Clintonville location, would agree.

Adrian Miller, serving customer

“Before I got the job, my family would always love going to Hot Chicken Takeover’s popup in Old Towne East because of the sense of community the restaurant gave us. And it has since been really rewarding to carry that torch, thanks to the people I work with and the problems we solve. No matter how fast we move, people are always at the core of everything,” says Miller.


That mentality is consistent at every level of the business. Maintaining a connection with the team is so important to Joe that he does a shift in each of his stores each quarter, in the dish tank. All the other executives are required to do the same.


Providing During a Pandemic

Jump ahead to early 2020. Hot Chicken Takeover’s five Ohio locations were thriving. DeLoss made plans to expand further and start construction on new locations. Set to obtain a hefty infusion of investment capital in late March 2020, Hot Chicken Takeover prepared for the next step – just before COVID-19 changed everything.


“It was a shock. We ended up losing multiple investment commitments in a week and were sent into a chaotic whirlwind of acclimating to new safety needs for customers and staff while developing a whole new financial plan,” says DeLoss.


Hot Chicken Takeover needed all hands on deck. DeLoss started working on the financial plan, while employees like Miller transformed the restaurant’s physical locations to better accommodate the new environment.


“Our restaurant was built around providing experiences rather than just transactions, which was difficult to preserve at the start of COVID. We took the necessary precautions and did our best to maintain a sense of community,” says Miller.

Back at headquarters, DeLoss was focused on crisis capital. He knew that the employees at the core of the company were at risk, so he reached out to Steve Fireman and the team at ECDI for help.


“ECDI helped build us a financial bridge to have time for the community and market to settle, and for us to get back on a capital plan that made sense. You can’t survive without that kind of support,” says DeLoss.


With the capital from ECDI, the business was stabilized, and DeLoss was able to shift some of his focus towards answering the call for help from the community at large, which was suffering from the pandemic. DeLoss helped launch the Service! project, a collaboration with other Columbus restaurants and organizations (including ECDI) to provide meals to un- or under-employed workers.


“We were just trying to create a pot of resources to deploy to the people that were doing great work, and ECDI was a source for some of that, which was really cool,” says Joe. Like Hot Chicken Takeover, Service! contributed to the local community in a way that has long been important to DeLoss.



Serving community while serving chicken

From hunger relief during the pandemic to offering fair chance employment, DeLoss is proud that Hot Chicken Takeover serves community. As a fair chance employer, Hot Chicken Takeover offers opportunities to those traditionally at a disadvantage in finding employment. By eating at Hot Chicken Takeover, you’re helping erode the barriers that keep at-risk members of your community from supporting themselves and their families. Even as the business grew, DeLoss never lost sight of the sustainable impact he wanted to provide from the beginning.


“Our guests, employees and neighbors all deserve a chance to be at the same table. The best businesses are the ones that raise all ships, and that’s been our orientation at Hot Chicken Takeover since day one,” says DeLoss.

Now that Hot Chicken Takeover has adapted to the chaos of the past year, they are ready to look at the big picture again. They have has since opened two more locations, spreading employment opportunities and Nashville-style fried chicken to seven locations across Ohio.




Click here to view ECDI's 2020 Impact Report.


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