After getting laid off three times, the HTC “fanboy” lands his dream job

Today, the wildly popular Hot Chicken Takeover boasts three locations in Columbus. But back in 2014, it was a simple pop-up window in Olde Towne East. And Adrian Miller, general manager at the North Market restaurant, was simply a self-described HTC fanboy, visiting each weekend with his young daughter.

“We went like 50 weeks in a row,” said Miller, who eventually got to know the owners, Joe and Lisa DeLoss. “Joe's got a lot of personality. He's a compelling figure. And so when … he's running around with his hair on fire trying to greet everybody and at the same time serve a quality product, you're drawn to him.”

“For the first 40 weeks, it was just good chicken and it was like … ‘Let's go see the crazy chicken guy,'” Miller continued. He said he became further inspired once he found out about the company's fair-chance hiring policy: People who were formerly incarcerated or homeless, as well as others with inconsistent employment history, are given a chance to work.

“I believed in what they were trying to do and it ended up turning into a job,” he said.

It was a big leap for Miller, who'd never fried chicken, let alone run a restaurant. And he was transitioning out of a long, technology-based career, which began in 1996 at a manufacturing plant. During a 12-hour shift, he'd press 10,000 to 20,000 CDs or DVDs for video game companies or textbook publishers.

He gained experience in the quality control, human resources and customer service departments before getting laid off in 2008. After a brief stint in sales, he managed transportation for a computer recycling business. In 2015, he was laid off again, and got a job with a transportation company. But when that company lost its contract later that year, he was laid off a third time.

“It's turbulent,” Miller said. “You feel like a failure … and you worry about paying bills.”

He received unemployment benefits and asked Joe at Hot Chicken Takeover for part-time work. “[I] said, ‘Just let me work behind the curtain for a couple days a week. Just let me wash dishes because it's going to give me structure,'” Miller said. “‘If I stay home on my laptop and look for jobs, I'm going to end up on Netflix.'”

Four months later, in April 2016, Miller was promoted to general manager. He oversees a team of about 35 employees, with 75 percent falling into the “fair-chance” category.

“It's an indication of an incident they had, not necessarily their character as a whole,” Miller said of his employees with “alternative” resumes. “They really want to work and prove themselves, and it's a lot of fun to come to work because you have a lot of people that really want to be here.”

Miller enjoys developing his staff, from coaxing them out of their shells to engage with customers to cultivating them for the next step in their careers. “I don't want to see those people go if they're great employees, but that's a success story because they're going to be an ambassador for us,” he said.

Open only for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, the restaurant can get hectic pretty quickly, but the results are often rewarding. “That's what stands out is when we just have to band up … because that's camaraderie, that's teamwork [and] that's perseverance,” Miller said.

Looking back, Miller is glad he changed careers. “I've had that conversation with some people that have come in here and my advice is always take the chance,” he said. “If it interests you and you have a passion for it, make the jump.”