January is an exceptional month for two reasons; it’s the birth month of the revered civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., his birthday, January 15th is a federally recognized holiday on January 16th, as well as heralding the first thirty-one days of the new year as National Mentoring Month. Serial entrepreneur Chad Dillon, 33, deftly manifests the spirit of the nuanced revolutionary King who often preached the ideology of being of service, and Dillon is just scratching the surface of his unique approach to building a business and serving his community with “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
As the owner of The Boiler Seafood and Crab Boil, a Cajun-style seafood eatery located in Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia, that features an expansive menu and list of craft cocktails, Dillon is using his capitalistic expertise to help his philanthropic endeavors in providing succor to prison inmates in starting a business, a move he believes will combat recidivism, the propensity for a convicted criminal to regress into the criminal activity after serving a prior prison or jail sentence. According to data accumulated from 2012 until 2017 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “Black prisoners have the second-highest recidivism rate, at 74% over five years, and are about 40% of total prisoners.”
The World Population Review listed recidivism rates by state, and “Georgia reports a 30% recidivism rate; however, the actual recidivism rate is closer to 50% when considering the number of people who commit a technical violation while on probation or parole and the number of people who recidivate after the three-year period.”
Originally born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, by parents who immigrated from Jamaica, Dillon learned early on how vital it is to develop a strong work ethic and to possess mental fortitude. Although his parents were not in a relationship with one another, Dillon says they always met his needs.
“I never was deprived of anything. They had regular jobs, they never showed me the struggle and always made it happen for me,” he mentions and admits now, as an adult looking back, he is astonished how they made something out of nothing. “I didn’t understand how they always made it happen [but] it showed me there’s always a way out if you work hard, you can achieve what you want.”
He admits his parents, who did not have green cards at the time and had to find various ways to secure employment, could not afford to drape him in designer clothing, but he had a roof over his head and food on the table.
Upon graduation from high school, Dillon matriculated to Howard University to major in business and began his career in tech, then pivoting into the culinary industry, “I learned how to identify and start businesses that solve a problem in need and fill the voids in the hospitality industry.” He studied customer needs and learned how to provide the required service. When he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, he noticed there were no seafood restaurants in Metro Atlanta, the city’s epicenter.
“There was just one franchise called Juicy Crab, and they were outside the city like 25 minutes away,” he recalls. Dillon reached out to the corporate headquarters to inquire how to become a franchisee, and they rejected his offer based on his lack of experience and youth. Undeterred, he set out to establish his own seafood brand and created it as a franchise model, with the flagship restaurant planted in the heart of Atlanta.
“Literally from day one, it’s been going crazy,” he proudly reveals that his sole location grossed $10 million. His seafood tavern’s popularity has spurred viral videos highlighting the prices and the lines that extended outside.
“We have a special item, a fried king crab priced at $200, and it went viral. Now we have people flying in from [different] states to try this fried king crab, and they’re paying [for] it, so we’ve been doing pretty good,” he gives a hearty laugh filled with satisfaction and prosperity. Two astonishing facts about his restaurant are that Dillon opened it up during the pandemic and he is the only Black-owned seafood boil restaurant in Atlanta. However, he encountered other obstacles, like the prices of food and retaining employees. Fortunately, the city did not enforce strict quarantine requirements.
“Once we opened that door for a sit-down, we were sold out for the first six months like [a] line out the door,” he remembers. Dillon attributes business success to the fact that people could not enjoy outside recreational activities like dancing at the club or engaging in other modes of nightlife. “The vibe we created in The Boiler, as even as a full family restaurant, it’s a place where you can be comfortable, stay for a while [and] talk. People were comfortable bringing the whole family here to relax and ease their mind compared to going out to sit somewhere else,” he explains.
Although he has received offers from people nationwide interested in franchising under his brand, he wants to open another site and then negotiate licensing his proprietary name to new business owners. However, his primary interest is opening Asian and dessert restaurants because he wants to add more diversity to the hospitality brand. He recently opened Sugar Baby Rolled Ice Cream bar, Shisha Speakeasy, and Hookah lounge. He plans to open the doors of JJ’s Fish and Chicken Midtown, Stix Asian Cuisine, Sugarcane Caribbean Restaurant, Vegan Me Burgers and Milkshakes, and a Hibachi Foodtruck.
While he continues to organize his expansion plans, the revenue from his culinary business allows Dillon to dedicate his time towards altruistic causes, such as the inauguration of his Venturing Outside Foundation, where he mentors incarcerated individuals to start enterprises upon release; he intends to take his initiative nationwide. The carceral system disproportionately affects Black men because they face numerous injustices, such as barriers to securing gainful employment, housing, and healthcare, increasing the likelihood of former inmates relapsing into prison. The Sentencing Project discovered that Black Americans are imprisoned in state prisons five times the number of their counterparts, White Americans.
During the pandemic, Dillon hired formerly incarcerated people to work in his restaurant when it was difficult to find willing workers during that tumultuous time. As a sign of his appreciation, he started speaking at the Metro-Atlanta Reentry Prison – Aces Program in May 2022. Dillon taught prison inmates how to operate and launch a business, which intrigued them. During that time, he became inspired to help the men further by instructing them using a college plan rubric to formulate a thorough business plan and submit their blueprints in a “Shark Tank” like competition; the top five winners would receive a $10K award in startup capital. He used all the resources he attained from Howard University, such as his books and notes from class, and made copies for all the participants. The program started on July 13th, 2022, and lasted for 13 weeks; they met every Wednesday. He took them step by step and demonstrated how to take their ideas and turn them into viable businesses.
“They took it seriously, they had a lot of questions, and the final week when it was presentation time, nine people presented, and all nine did really [well], so I ended up awarding all nine people,” he reported and will continue to mentor them upon their release back into society. He adds, “What makes us special is that most of them are still incarcerated in the reentry facility. Only one person [named Ryan Richard] out of nine has come home so far. He received startup funds and is using it towards getting his CDL because he wants to start a trucking business. He just got his license back, and we’re helping as much as possible. I’m hands-on with these guys. I speak to them often, so I am helping them and trying to mentor them.”
Dillon also guides Richard on how to conduct himself in certain stressful situations, “These guys have been incarcerated for a while, and they are learning social and life skills along with the business skills.” Richard plans to own two more trucks in the next five years and wants to employ other convicted felons.
Since the launch of his initiative, the metamorphosis of his mentees has been extraordinary because they were unaware of their capabilities.
“They never believed they could write a business plan [or] even start a business. So me bringing that out of them, they were surprised with themselves, that they are not just [felons]. They see that they could be what I am, actually start a business [and be] successful, as these guys they see on TV, and a lot of them didn’t know they had that inside of them. So he’s bringing out the good in them was impactful,” he says.
Dillon is the change he wants to see, and his primary objectives are also mentoring troubled youth, providing opportunities for individuals who need second and sometimes third chances in life, as well as, providing educating others in his community on how to harness the power of entrepreneurship to create passive income.
The lasting advice he wants to give Black men to overcome obstacles in this society to attain success is to maintain patience and do everything within their own time. “Some people are successful at 25 [or at] 50. The media portrays everybody as rich, young, and having all these flashy cars, but many people start their first business in their 40s and 50s; they don’t get their first luxury car till they’re about 65 and retired. So there’s a lot of push on media, especially social media, to have all these things young. But I say patience is everything. You can achieve these things without being the typical athlete, rapper, or even committing a crime,” he suggests. “Plenty of corporate people and business owners have these things by opening and starting businesses. Everybody’s at a different time, and nobody’s a failure, even the guys that are felons. Don’t let anybody judge on that; you are still creative, you’re still a person, and it’s all about moving past these mistakes, proving people wrong, starting your own companies, and being successful.”