LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — DV8 Kitchen head baker Michael Hedges loves working with his hands.
"Gets your body moving, your mind moving for sure," Hedges said while baking hoagies in DV8 Kitchen's new second location in the East End neighborhood.
Staying active is a good thing because an idle mind, he said, is harmful to someone in addiction recovery.
"I went down the wrong path," he said about his struggle with addiction.
Hedges said he has been clean for nearly two and a half years now. He had a support system throughout the pandemic, which wasn't the case for everyone in recovery.
The pandemic was especially hard for this population because it caused a lot of isolation, which allowed time to let the mind wander.
"We've seen a lot of falling back into the old ways," Rob Perez, with DV8 Kitchen said. "Just in the state we're seeing a record number of overdoses in heroin and it's a direct result of the isolation."
The CDC reports Kentucky had one of the highest overdose rates in the country last year. In 2020, there were 2,104 overdose deaths. That's a 53.7% increase compared to 2019 when there were 1,369 overdose deaths.
The opening of the new restaurant, though, has kept 25 new employees, the majority of whom are in addiction recovery, busy. The original location on South Broadway has 24 existing employees.
"Hands down it is one of the best things," Hedges said.
And it almost didn't happen.
Perez said he took over the lease of the new building for the East End location right before the pandemic hit. When things weren't looking great for the restaurant industry, he started to question whether he wanted to get out of the lease.
Then, everything changed when restaurants started to welcome employees back.
"When we decided to open DV8 [on Broadway] back it took me an hour and a half to get every single employee back and they wanted to come back immediately and that was far different than our for-profit businesses and it convinced us that we didn't need to shut down this [East End] project, that we really needed to open it and that was because of the folks that were in recovery that understood the value of a good job," Perez said.
He said, in comparison, it took three weeks to find enough employees to cover three shifts for a week at his other restaurant.
Fast forward to the East End location's opening in August, DV8 Kitchen is thriving with its new employees. Perez hopes to eventually bring on 15 more people for a total of about 65 employees in recovery across the two DV8 restaurants.