HCT Founder and Head Fryer Joe DeLoss was voted by peer CEOs as CEO of the Year for 2019 in the small business category.

Although there are plenty of Hot Chicken Takeover frequenters who are passionate about the spicy fried chicken, founder Joe DeLoss created the social enterprise because he was passionate about helping people. Hot chicken has merely served as a vehicle in which to offer that help.

DeLoss, 34, is a tenacious entrepreneur whose grit made the company possible. At the tail-end of 2013 and having just experienced a failed startup attempt that was meant to serve a similar purpose as Hot Chicken Takeover, DeLoss and his wife traveled to Nashville, experienced hot chicken for the first time and six months later, the restaurant was born.

Here are the other CEOs of the Year for 2019.

The company’s mission is to hire people in need of supportive employment—those who have experienced incarceration or issues associated with addiction or homelessness. Beyond merely offering employment, Hot Chicken Takeover also provides benefits for employees in areas such as reliable transportation, financial literacy, housing and mental well-being.

The overall goal is to see people leave Hot Chicken Takeover.

“We’d love to see people stay with Hot Chicken forever, but is that realistic?” says Brittney Price, vice president of human resources—who left her position as director of international HR at L Brands in February 2019 to throw in with DeLoss’ vision. “Instead, let me go work in this warehouse position where I’m making $19 to $20 an hour. I’ve been able to come off government assistance. I’m over the cliff where I am now actually able to make and save money, and Hot Chicken Takeover was the step to get me there.”

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As a frequent participant in volunteerism throughout his life, DeLoss says he became frustrated with interventions that were trying and failing to tackle very complicated issues—particularly job opportunities for those with barriers.

“As I started building relationships with people that had such different experiences in life than I did, it was a really meaningful education and eye-opener for me,” he says. “I got captivated by trying to foster as many of those relationships as I could, and it definitely has enriched my life. But ultimately, I believe it can enrich a business, too.”

His favorite part of his job still is being able to interact directly with those working in the restaurants, although the bigger Hot Chicken gets, the more difficult it becomes. Still, at least once a month DeLoss can be found in front of the dish tank in one of his restaurants doing dishes.

“Every day I show up to work, I’m running a bigger company than the day before,” he says. “As a CEO, I have had a lot of learning curves to just understand how to run an increasingly larger organization that is trying to be increasingly mature and professional and best serve our employees and customers. When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting out and kind of bootstrapping things, you just don’t think of yourself as having to be that kind of executive leader. But that’s definitely a responsibility I’m growing into and aspire to be better and better.”

Hot Chicken Takeover has some big things on its plate.

In five years, he hopes his four restaurants will become 30—that’s five times the number of jobs currently offered by the company, which is Hot Chicken Takeover’s most important number.

In addition to scaling, Price and her team tweaked a program that was already in existence when she started. She says DeLoss is incredibly open to potential innovations brought forward by his team, from restaurant to HQ. The Match Milestones program previously matched a dollar for every $2 put toward an employee life milestone, such as the birth of a child or a first apartment. Now, the program matches dollar for dollar up to $600 per year. Price also is working on implementing a 401(k) plan and a rideshare discount program so people can more easily travel to work.

In the past five years, the number of social enterprises in Columbus has grown rapidly. “I feel like Joe really set the stage for it,” says Price.