For many, the ex-con label is as good as having a scarlet letter when it comes to employment -- but a Frogtown diner operated by Union Gospel Mission is hiring them and the homeless.
The Daily Diner Frogtown recently opened in St. Paul. Lines are starting to grow for their grub, but the owners say the restaurant's greatest service is employment.
The meals are served fresh and hot, and the service is friendly.
"Make sure you save some room for desert," quipped Henry Wallace. "We have great pies."
After opening in April, the diner is already getting rave reviews -- but it isn't the chicken and waffles that makes the restaurant so memorable. It's the cast of characters that work there.
"I stole a car out of a church parking lot," Johnathan Sacada admitted.
Sacada is an ex-convict working alongside Henry Wallace, who used to live on the streets.
"You want to go to an employer and you got this big bag on your back saying, 'Please, hire me.' Doesn't look good," Wallace told FOX 9 News. "If you go from having your own to having nothing, you really don't think you have options."
Yet, both found options and opportunity at the Daily Diner Frogtown -- one as a chef and the other as a greeter in training. Yet, to really understand why they got their second chances, it's important to explain how they ended up at the Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul.
"I had a boss tell me, 'Well, you have a criminal record. So, I don't care if it's a felony or a misdemeanor, I'm not going to hire you either way because I don't hire criminals," Sacada recalled.
Research shows nearly 7,000 people in the Twin Cities metro are homeless. National data shows 2 million people with a felony conviction or prison record will not find a job.
"If nobody gives them a chance in the first place and gives place, they'll just continue down a bad path," Nick Gisi, of the Daily Diner Frogtown and Union Gospel Mission, said.
Call it luck, faith, or destiny, but both men beat the odds by going through the UGM job training program, which focuses on discipline and the teachings of Jesus.
"Forming good work habits, being responsible, coming to work on time," explained Gisi.
Thanks to the diner, both Sacada and Wallace say they now feel they have a future.
"I guarantee you, there isn't a single person out there that hasn't made a mistake," Sacada said.
Now that someone was willing to take a chance to give them a second chance, it's paying dividends for everyone involved -- and the community. Both Wallace and Sacada now have places of their own.
"More than anything, they opened me up to being receptive to going out there and trying again," Wallace told FOX 9 News. "They helped me help myself.
The diner is a start-up operated by the Union Gospel Mission, but the group hopes to partner with other restaurants and businesses to provide more job opportunities to ex-cons and the homeless.