Thursday, April 30, 2009

Felony Franks

Steve Van Diest, one of our recent participants in a faith venture forum and a Christian business owner, sent me an email this week pointing me to Felony Franks in Chicago. This organization seems to be riding a wave of free media by choosing a creative name that marries marketing savvy with an important social purpose.

I don’t know if Felony Franks includes faith in its venture but it certainly shares this forum’s commitment to creating employment opportunities for past felons. (And I find it amusing that Steve sent me the link a few days after my post on hot dog carts as a self-employment opportunity for felons.)

Jim Andrews, the founder of the Rescue Foundation in 2003 and owner of Andrews Paper Company in Chicago, seems to be a successful businessman who has caught a vision for felony employment. He shares his dream in a recent television interview on CBS 2 Chicago.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Grace, Peace and Bud's Warehouse

I spoke at Centennial Covenant Church on March 22nd, 2009 about how grace and peace is so central to all we do at Bud's Warehouse and in the local church. I was also able to share about the special friendship I developed with Marcos Flynn over the years.

To download the mp3, visit here. Or feel free to use the following player.

Grace and Peace-

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Belay Featured in Community Wealth City Profile, a project of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, profiles Belay Enterprises this spring in its latest Community Wealth City overview on Denver:

"Denver is also home to other notable community wealth initiatives. The Urban Land Conservancy contributes to the surrounding community in a variety of ways, helping to secure land so that it remains affordable for schools, affordable housing, and office space for non-profits, while also providing financing and coordination to local community projects and initiatives. Another organization, Belay Enterprises, founded Bud's Warehouse, a career and life-skills training social enterprise that employs individuals rebuilding their lives from addiction, homelessness, or prison. Bud's Warehouse has since become a successful home improvement store and has now expanded to three additional locations." (More)

I am excited that our organization was unexpectedly included in this article about Denver. is a well-respected informational project that seeks to publicize innovative community wealth building strategies around the country to help advance such efforts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hot Dogging it to a New Life

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal detailed the trend of white-collar professionals seeking to escape the recession by selling hot dogs:

“Today's cart buyers are generally older and have more white-collar work
experience than was traditionally the case,” says Will Hodgskiss, president
and "top dog" at Willy Dog Ltd., a New York cart manufacturer. "People are
either buying these carts in anticipation of a layoff or to supplement their
incomes," he says. Willy Dog's sales are up 30% from March 2007.”

“Dogged Pursuit: Professionals Find New Livelihood Selling Frankfurters,” The Wall
Street Journal
, April 9, 2009

The article shared that individual hot dog vendors in prime locations are earning up to $400 a day. One cart vending company, All American Hot Dog Carts Inc, offers a training program called Hot Dog University.

At Belay, we’ve always viewed vending carts as a viable option for individuals rebuilding lives from addictions or felony convictions. Though, in Denver, the food product of choice seems to be the breakfast burritos instead of the hot dog. For some individuals with certain felony convictions that shut them out of traditional employment, a vending cart can be an entrepreneurial solution to providing for their families.

The Wall Street Journal’s Independedent Street blog offers pointers on how to get into the hot dog trade.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bureau of Labor Statistics

At some point over the last year, the news replaced regular reports on the current escapades of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears with frequent stories on the latest unemployment statistics. The news seems to think we want less celebrity drama and more excitement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the midst of this recession, Bud’s Warehouse has assisted in the process by which the government determines unemployment statistics. Over a year ago, we were randomly selected to provide employment data on a monthly basis. I found our selection ironic because our hiring priorities are so opposite that of more traditional businesses.

As a faith venture business, we intentionally seek to hire individuals who are unable to get jobs anywhere else because of addictions, homelessness or felony convictions. These are individuals who find it difficult to find a job in any type of economy. Yet, even in the midst of this recession, we’ve been blessed with the ability to continue to employ at similar levels as in the past. We are even looking at opportunities to expand our job-training hiring with the initiation of a cabinet manufacturing operation.

I suspect that our hiring data often puts us into the realm of a statistical outlier. While many companies have had to make tough decisions to downsize, God continues to enable us to make a difference for individuals rebuilding lives from extreme challenges in a difficult economy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Greetings

"The point of the that the present bodily life is not valueless because it will die. God will raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it... What you do in the present--by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbors as yourself--will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day we leave it behind altogether...They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom."

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Harper One, 2008, p. 193.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Winning by Losing

Do you remember an event in your life that you initially thought was terrible but then turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to you? With that one question, we opened our acoustic discussion of the passion story this Good Friday morning at Bud’s Warehouse. I called it an acoustic reading because we wanted to keep it simple, focus on what the story says in Matthew 26 and 27, and listen to what God might be telling us today.

Over the years, this has been one of my favorite discussions. Individuals rebuilding lives in our faithventure businesses have much to teach about how a loss can be transformed into victory.

After my question, heads immediately nodded and many gathered around the table were excited to share. A common theme quickly developed. Prison was the worst thing that had ever happened to several of the participants. But it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

For several individuals, prison stopped the cycle of drug abuse that was destined to end up in death. For another, prison ended poor decisions that would have eventually resulted in someone dying. Everyone agreed that prison was the place where faith bloomed because it was the location where brokenness was realized and the need for new life was understood.

We then slowly read the Matthew account of Jesus’ last days. We tried to focus on being in the story….experiencing what Jesus’ followers felt on that first Good Friday while attempting to temporarily forget how the story climaxes on Easter Sunday.

This was a terrible event. It was the death of the disciples’ hopes and dreams in the leadership of Jesus. The man they thought would lead the next chapter of Israel’s history as the Messiah was now being horribly tortured and killed.

We stopped reading after the burial of Jesus. We paused to experience the defeat and the questioning of Good Friday. And then we looked forward to Easter Sunday where the current story resolves into the bigger background story of Jesus’ victory over death.

We will continue to celebrate together early next week at work how our worst defeats become the path to our biggest victories.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


The radio ads announce a must-see last episode of the NBC sitcom ER tonight. I am feeling nostalgic, not because of the loss of a favorite show-- I haven't watched it regularly in years--but because of the intimate link between the success of Bud's Warehouse and ER nine years ago.

In January of 2000, Bud's Warehouse was still in the early stages of its start-up. On any given month, it was an open question as to whether the organization was going to succeed or fail. Unexpectedly, we received a call from Mark Koebrich at 9News wanting to do a sweeps month story on how Bud's was the best kept secret in Denver.

A month later the story aired on the best possible night. Denver was in the midst of its biggest snowstorm of the season so everyone was turning into the news to see the weather report for the morning. ER preceded the news with a much-hyped show about the death of a key character. It was the perfect storm for Denver NBC television viewership. I read a couple of weeks later that it was the biggest Denver audience for a show up to that point. And the next morning, with a foot of snow on the ground, Bud's Warehouse was circled by hundreds of people waiting to enter the store.

As they say, the rest is history. Overnight, Bud's sales grew by 400%. The organization was able to dramatically increase the number of individuals it employed rebuilding lives from homelessness, addiction or prison. Bud's also used its new-found profits to start-up 3 new ventures--Baby Bud's, the Good Neighbor Garage, and Freedom Cleaning Services-- to employ even more individuals.

So when I hear of ER's last show, I fondly remember how God used a television drama and 9News to help create second chances for hundreds of Denver area individuals.

I hear it might even snow.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...