Transforming the World by Hiring People with Disabilities

Posted by: Jean Lloyd - January 24, 2017

Scott Wise (Ball State University, 1996), known for his successful restaurant business, has committed to increasing the percentage of employees with developmental disabilities to 10 percent by the end of 2017 and plans to keep up the momentum he’s already gained.

More than 20 years ago, Wise opened Scotty’s Brewhouse in Muncie, Ind. He is the founder of A Pots and Pans Production, the company behind the restaurants Scotty’s Brewhouse, Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company and Scotty’s Dawghouse now located in 19 locations across Indiana, Illinois and Florida. The restaurants are popular, but Wise’s hiring commitment has added new energy to the business.

It all started in Muncie with a partnership with The Arc of Indiana, an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc of Indiana began exploring a restaurant training ground to coordinate with the Erskine Green Training Institute, developed to provide postsecondary education opportunities in hospitality, food service or healthcare for people with disabilities.

Scott Wise

Kim Dodson, executive director of The Arc of Indiana approached Wise. “The Arc knew that we needed a dedicated partner in our project in Muncie and Scott Wise was an easy decision for us to look to. He not only agreed to be our partner in Muncie but expanded our vision to include employing people with disabilities throughout all of his restaurants,” said Dodson.

Wise has always been a community partner with a strong philanthropic commitment, but after experiencing a life-threatening brain infection in 2012 he felt a reinvigorated call to do good for others. “It didn't change me into a new person, I think it just amplified everything… That near-death experience kind of made me just wake up and just say, ‘This isn't going to be a big money grab. I'm not going to just grow this restaurant just to have world domination with Scotty's Brewhouses all over the place.’ I wanted it to mean more.”

Following the December 2016 sale of the private equity the restaurant chain is on the cusp of expansion to more than 100 restaurants and the hiring commitment that will grow with the expansion. “I turned other offers down because they didn't want to keep me in place and I didn't want anybody to wreck what I was doing. This group told me that they were not going to change that. That was one of the reasons why they wanted to buy it, because they loved what we stood for. To know that this is something that we are going to take across the country now is just exhilarating. If everything plays out right they want to grow our restaurant to 100 restaurants within five years, which would be five times what we have now. Could we say that by that time, we've got over 10,000 employees, over 2,000 people we hire with physical or mental challenges? I'm excited about what the opportunities are in front of us for the future.”

Wise didn’t know how people would react but was invested in making it work and found out his team members were on board. “The people in my industry are just by nature, people pleasers. We want to help other people. That’s why we get your drinks when you want refills and why we bring your food to the table. I should have never second-guessed them. They gravitated towards almost a big brother, big sister mentality. Truly it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Another development lies in employee retention. “When we open a restaurant, we normally hire about 20 percent greater than what our needs are, knowing that we're going to have attrition rates of about 20 percent after we open the doors. When I opened [Thr3e Wiseman in Muncie in partnership with The Arc of Indiana] two years ago, we only lost three people. I can't say it's from this exact thing, but it's the only thing differently that we've done in the last six years when we've opened a restaurant.”

When he saw those results, Wise became even more determined to establish a company-wide initiative to raise the percentage of physically or mentally challenged employees to at least 10 percent. “We're going to go out and actively find agencies to work with. We're going to let parents know, friends and relatives and all these different places where we can find people that maybe haven't been given an opportunity,” he said. “We're going to toot our horn and we're going to let people know that we're going to amplify this. By the end of 2017, we said 10 percent of our entire workforce will be physically or mentally challenged. We started at one percent. We're currently at six percent, so we're on our way to being at my goal and if I can beat that goal and get it above that, even better.”

Wise would prefer to avoid notoriety as he feels his work is more about being a compassionate human being and doing the right thing than being noticed. And yet his commitment has been noticed on a national scale. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently honored Wise with the Best in Business Award and Noble, an organization founded in 1953 by parents of children with developmental disabilities, presented his company with its Employment Award.

Wise’s achievements are inspiring others, but what is important to Wise is people. He accepts awards on behalf of the individuals and families whose lives are changed by opportunity.

“Because of Scott’s dedication, people with disabilities are gaining independence, finding jobs they love and helping us lower the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities,” Dodson said.