Second Helping catering manager and client owner Monique Maddox knows firsthand how difficult finding a job can be, having served nearly a decade in prison.
“I decided maybe a day too late to change my life,” said Maddox, 42, adding that she walked away from a life centered around the drug culture when she became pregnant. “But I had an old friend from the past who asked me to do a favor for him.”
That favor, which involved drug possession, ended with an almost 20-year federal sentence for Maddox, who had to leave behind her 2-month-old and 11-year-old sons when she entered prison. It was in jail that she met domestic violence counselor Melissa Mummert and Ruth Snyder, a chaplain intern who’s now the executive director of Changed Choices.
Together, she, Mummert and Snyder wanted “to make things better for women coming out of prison,” Maddox said.
So they launched Second Helping as a food business with a social-change motive. That was two years ago, and it started with a coffee cart in uptown Charlotte, in the lobby of the Children and Family Services Center at Davidson and Fifth streets.
Its success led to another cart at the Goodwill Career Center on Freedom Drive, and since late summer, a takeout cafe and catering kitchen on Central Avenue.
“We’re the only (employer) that looks to see if you do have a record,” Maddox said with a laugh. “That’s our mission and we want to stay true to that.”
Something to prove
Second Helping employees are typically clients of Changed Choices, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated women.
“It’s hard to get a job. You check that ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ box, and nine out of 10 times (employers) count you out,” Maddox said. “I can relate, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I tell them, ‘This will be like no other workplace. This is a chance to start turning your life around and to make the next best decision.’ ”
Snyder said it’s been a joy to watch Maddox grow and develop over the years, describing her as vibrant and determined. Second Helping has been “a true opportunity for people like Monique to shine,” Snyder said.
“The kind of endeavor we see in Second Helping is one that’s very needed in our community,” Snyder said. “It thrills me to see these women successfully taking responsibility, learning new aspects of running their own business and developing the maturity and acumen to do that successfully.”
The takeout cafe shares a storefront and kitchen with Antonia “Neet” Childs, owner of the social-change baking business Neet’s Sweets. Childs is a survivor of human trafficking and now advocates for other victims the same way Second Helping does for formerly incarcerated women.
“Our cause and purposes are both the same: helping women,” Maddox said. “Maybe not the same women, but women in general. And we want to stay connected with that.”
She and Childs met through Mummert and the coffee carts, and soon Childs was stocking the carts with her pastries and baked goods. It made sense for the two businesses, which both needed kitchen space, to work together, Maddox said.
“We put food and desserts under one roof (and) help each other financially,” she said, adding it costs less to split the rent than to be solely responsible.
At the table
Chef Ron Ahlert, executive director at the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, said he wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Maddox has found success with Second Helping. He was one of her instructors at the culinary school, and Ahlert said her determination, honesty and compassion make her a natural leader.
“Monique will continue to carry a strong message (to women) who have fallen upon the same tough times she fell upon. The message will get more polished and concise, because she’s living it more and more each day,” Ahlert said.
Maddox knows growing Second Helping’s business is key to being able to hire more women and offer better positions with better pay. A well-worn datebook with upcoming catering events is integral to that, she said. “This catering book is our success … (It) is as tattered as it is because it has become (our) biggest source of income.”
Second Helping has catered mainly corporate events so far, Maddox said, noting the week before Christmas they averaged four or five events per day, each with 50 to 100 people. Maddox is working 12- to 14-hour days, six days a week, but it’s something she’s more than happy to do.
“My husband says I’m a workaholic,” she said. “But I don’t feel like I’m coming to a job. It feels like I’m coming to hang out with my sisters.”
In January, Second Helping will start delivering preordered take-home meals twice a week to a faith-based child care center in Myers Park, Maddox said. “They can pick up their children and get their meal at the same time. I never thought we’d get to this,” she said, adding they hope to expand to other areas of Charlotte shortly after.
Though her primary focus is on catering, Maddox still finds time to dream big for the future. “I’d like to also focus on dine-in,” Maddox said, envisioning a sit-down restaurant.
“We could touch a lot of lives that way, with locations all over Charlotte.”
Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less