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Normalizing Opportunities for the Unconventional Workforce
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John Gargano - Normalizing Opportunities for the Unconventional Workforce

John Gargano - Normalizing Opportunities for the Unconventional Workforce

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The Welcome Conference

The Welcome Conference

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John Gargano Pull Out Interview (1)

John Gargano Pull Out Interview (1)

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In-Person Public Speaking

Philadelphia Chef Conference Appearance

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Philly Chef Conference 2023 could not of happened without our great sponsors. A big thank you to Drexel University for hosting and our presenting sponsor, OpenTable. The title of this talk is "Prison Reform and the Restaurant Industry," moderated by Kim Severson of The New York Times, and joined by Keith Corbin from Alta Adams, John Gargano from Craft, ​​Dan Giusti from Noma, and Kurt Evans from Champion of Change.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

John Gargano graduated from New York University in May 2021 with a 3.91 GPA. Like a lot of recent graduates, he wasn’t sure what was in store, but he hoped to return to the restaurant industry, where he’d enjoyed the work.

There was one problem, though. “When you have a 15-year gap in your resume, it’s not always the easiest thing to explain,” John says now. That gap was because in 2004, John received a 30-year sentence for his part in a drug conspiracy. He served 13 years, and in 2016, was granted clemency by President Obama.

Following his release, John decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree. At first, he says, “I sought the degree as the validation. Little did I realize the education and the degree just empowered me to keep going, to keep wanting more and doing more. So I graduated with an associate’s degree from Hostos [Community College] with a 4.0 in business administration.” He then received a scholarship to New York University to pursue his bachelor’s.
While he was in school, he worked for a few years at Riverpark restaurant, where he made a lasting impact on customers and employees. In March 2020, he was offered a job at Locanda Verde in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan. A few weeks later, the whole city shut down—and the restaurant industry was among the hardest hit. John lost his job.
Then famed chef Tom Colicchio called. To John’s amazement, Chef Tom asked him to be the general manager of Craft, one of his New York City restaurants.
John says that the biggest misconception about incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals is that they don’t have the ability to change—that one mistake will define them for the rest of their lives. At 52, after spending more than a decade behind bars, John is able to look his elderly mother in the eye and see “that she knows that I’m a different person.”
When asked what freedom means to him, he says, “Opportunity. Not opportunity for me, but opportunity to pay it forward. If I don’t pay it forward, I never deserved it in the first place.” John doesn’t love talking about his time in prison, or the reasons he ended up there. In fact, he’d prefer to forget about it entirely, but he knows that by telling his story, it may shed light on issues that otherwise could go unnoticed.
“Telling my story will provide other people, later down the line, the opportunity to also maybe have their ‘Obama moment,’” he says.

The Welcome Conference and the Unconventional Workforce

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Celebrations Chatter
An Inspiring Story Of Rebuilding
With John Gargano

Today on Power & Impact, John Gargano, General Manager at Craft, joins Jim to share one of the most emotional and inspiring stories I’ve ever encountered.
Faced with what he thought to be a life-ending diagnosis, John gave up and fell into an addiction which led to a prison sentence, during which John built himself back up from scratch.  He was eventually released under President Obama’s clemency program, but John’s story doesn’t end there.
Given a second chance, John was relentless and used every opportunity he had available to succeed. “It was a rough road,” but John’s message to everyone is so powerful, “With the right choices and motivation you can change anything.”
John and Jim met through Crafted Hospitality, which operates restaurants by the award-winning chef Tom Colicchio.  A partner of Smile Farms, Craft offers employment to adults with disabilities and provides opportunities for growth.  Through them, Jim got to know John and hear about his incredible journey of second chances and redemption.
Join us for this can’t-miss interview that just may bring a tear to your eye.

 Providing Opportunities for Adults with Disabilities

Emmanuel, who goes by the name “Manny” started attending the League and Education Treatment Center (LETC’s) prevocational program in February of 2008. Throughout his years, Manny has demonstrated an eagerness to learn and achieve. His attendance has always been perfect, and he’s worked hard to meet his goal of joining the workforce.
According to Linton Thompson, DSP Vocational Specialist, “Over the years, I've seen Emmanuel progress from timid to confident in expressing his wants and needs. He works hard every day to gain relevant knowledge and learn skills that will help him succeed at work and in life.”
In April 2022, Manny’s goal of joining the workforce became a reality when he was hired at Craft & Vallata Restaurant in the position of Polisher. As a polisher, Manny washes and polishes glassware and cutlery, and also restocks the wait stations and bar.
According to John Gargano, General Manager of Craft & Vallata, he is pleased with what Manny brings to the job. “Manny has brought humility to an environment that is fast-paced, often impersonal, and sometimes hectic. He always has a great attitude and chooses to be positive.”
When asked how he would describe Manny in 3 words, John said, “Reliable, Appreciative, Humble.”  When asked what he enjoys most about his job, Manny says it’s “working with my team.” Add team-player to the list of positive attributes that have made Manny so successful!
John also believes that Manny will continue to progress, saying, “We plan to move Manny into a position that works closely with our Culinary Team.”
The League Education and Treatment Center (LETC) is a Brooklyn-based OPWDD service provider that offers employment and pre-vocational services to people with developmental and other disabilities.  They are incredibly proud of the partnership they have developed with Craft & Vallata Restaurant in New York City because they know that the value of work extends beyond a paycheck and results in increased self-esteem, a sense of purpose and identity, and expanded community, not only for the employees hired through LETC but for all their employees. 
The relationship that LETC has forged with Craft & Vallata Restaurant has been a true recipe for success in promoting workplace diversity. It’s not only benefitted Manny but the staff and patrons at Craft & Vallata.

Normalizing Opportunities

When people re-enter society after serving a prison sentence, they face a multitude of lifelong barriers
that prohibit them from being successful. Social systems intended to provide assistance are erroneously
designed and difficult to navigate. Many laws and policies present double standards that prevent people
with records from qualifying for services. In order for people with records to have a successful and
sustainable life, including opportunities for career growth, systemic change must be implemented by our
legislators and policymakers.

JFF’s CJEA-Amplifier Art Advocacy campaign is sub-campaign of the Center’s Normalizing Opportunity
campaign, which advocates for systemic reform to ensure that the more than 70 million people in
America who have an arrest or conviction record have equitable access to quality jobs that align with the
skills, talents, and aspirations, and lead to economic advancement.

Rooted in CJEA’s Normalizing Opportunity policy framework and curated in collaboration with Amplifier,
this campaign includes original artwork by legendary artist Brandan “BMike” Odums and poetry by
acclaimed writer, Jazmine Williams, and features icons Susan BurtonJohn Gargano, and Mac Phipps who have showcased the limitless possibilities of people impacted by the legal system when we remove
barriers and open opportunity.

About John

After being sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison as a first-time non-violent drug offender, John received a Presidential Commutation from President Barack Obama on August 2, 2016.  John served over 12 years and returned home battered and broken, but continued on his journey with relentless determination to be successful.  John always felt that his success would ultimately prove the case that individuals deserve second chances, and when those same individuals flourish it lays out the case to provide further opportunities to the tens of thousands of his brothers and sisters he left behind the prison walls.

John turned to education at Hostos Community College, earning an Associates Degree in Business Management with a 4.0 GPA, then accepting a CCTOP Scholarship to attend NYU-SPS where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Leadership and Management Studies with a 3.9 GPA and was selected by his peers to be NYU-SPS Class of '21 Commencement Speaker.


John's achievements go far beyond his relentless determination to demonstrate to society that people deserve second chances. 


How I Can Help You

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