Beyond the premium meats and cheeses, made-from-scratch bread, and thick, chocolate fudge brownies in Apple Spice Junction’s gourmet boxed lunches, there’s a lesser known but equally appealing detail about the Fort Wayne corporate caterer.
Namely, it’s an affirmative business, and Ivy Tech Community College Northeast hospitality administration graduate Nate Getts became its general manager in 2012.
Getts’ position involves multiple obligations, and he credits his alma mater with preparing him to balance the responsibilities successfully.
“When I started supervising and training others here, I was sure to do it the way I learned at Ivy Tech,” he says. “I learned from great chefs there—not good chefs, great chefs.”
Affirmative businesses, like Apple Spice Junction, employ disadvantaged populations. They offer familiar products and services to consumers and share the same goal for profitability as traditional businesses do. Apple Spice Junction operates in partnership with Park Center, northeast Indiana’s comprehensive mental health provider.
Park Center administrators opened Apple Spice Junction, a small Salt Lake City-based chain, in 2010, after a national search for a food-service franchise. The Fort Wayne site is the only location in the chain that follows the affirmative business model.
From the business’s inception, its vision has been to assist Park Center clients in their return to work after recovering from major mental illness.
“Our mission is to restore lives,” says Paul Wilson, Park Center president and CEO. “Belief in the future and one’s ability to obtain self-sufficiency are important to one’s mental health.”
Apple Spice Junction serves as a six-month incubator for Park Center clients during their search for long-term employment. The experience provides them with opportunities to relearn basic job skills, excel in the food-service industry, and update their resumes with a timely job reference.
And Getts’ management philosophy with the employees appears to be both intuitive and effective.
“If you treat people with respect and tell them you care about them, they’re going to learn better; they’re going to listen to you more often; and they’re going to work really hard for you,” he says.
Getts supervises a small team of food service professionals and another 12 Park Center clients, on average, in six-month cycles. More than 50 Park Center clients have worked at Apple Spice Junction, he says.
One such individual is current employee Paul Hazelton.
Hazelton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and alcoholism in 2011. He says his alcohol addiction reached its peak that same year following the deaths of his parents, three months apart.
“With my combination of bipolar disorder and alcoholism, I suffered from a lot of depression. Your moods go up and down; you have anxiety issues,” Hazelton says. “With the alcoholism, I would drink until I blacked out at times, and I wouldn’t remember things that happened when I drank.”
Hazelton’s alcoholism prevented him from maintaining a job and ultimately led to three driving under the influence convictions and homelessness. He spent the next several years in and out of local substance abuse treatment centers.
Today, Hazelton has been sober for nearly a year, and he continues to take medication for his bipolar disorder. He says he’s happy to regain independence and happy to be working at Apple Spice Junction.
“Nate is the most awesome boss I’ve ever had,” Hazelton says. “Not enough places praise their employees as often as they should. Nate praises us all the time and really treats us well. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty; he’s right there and works with us.”
For Getts, thank-you responses aren’t necessary. Seeing people lead productive lives is satisfaction enough.
“I have been given an opportunity to do what I love, while helping people at the same time,” he says. “When former employees come up to me and say they’ve found work, that’s the best reward ever.”