By Sam Haas, city editor

In addition to whole-wheat pizza and soups made with vegetables from local gardens, newly opened Dudley Dough is serving up social justice in Roxbury for customers and employees alike.

The restaurant, owned and operated by community nonprofit Haley House, aims to address two problems: the lack of well-paid jobs in food service and the difficulty some people, including former inmates, face in finding work.

“We’re all about economic justice and individuals being involved in the community, serving the community and seeing what the community needs – not just in nourishment for your stomach but for your mind and soul,” Carmine Leighton, a Dudley Dough employee, said.

The restaurant, opened last Thursday in the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square, offers a small but varied menu including Margherita pizza, a rotating pizza of the day, soups and salads, cookies and bakery items, treats from Boston-based Toscanini’s Ice Cream, coffee, tea and other drinks. The centerpiece of each pizza is its thin-crust dough, created by local chef Didi Emmons at nearby Haley House Bakery Cafe.

“This is really, really good, I think because of the crust,” Annie Collins, a Roxbury resident, said. “I’ll definitely be back. I think local businesses should be supported… and it’s even better than the food I have cooking at home.”

Dudley Dough is the latest venture run to spring out of Haley House. The group also operates a soup kitchen, jobs training programs, multiple community gardens, affordable housing and other efforts aimed at diminishing economic inequality by offering opportunities to young adults, single parents, former inmates and others needing support.

“It very much grew out of our experience with the Haley House Bakery Cafe,” Kathe McKenna, director of special programs for Haley House, said. “Dudley Dough is much more focused. It’s meant to be a successful, focused business with employees who are ready to be really good at what they do: make gourmet, artisanal pizza and be successful enough to generate profit.”

Profit is an important aspect of Dudley Dough’s operations, though for a different reason than it is to most businesses. Every few months, profits will be shared among employees. Such a model will give employees a greater sense of ownership, while also affording them a higher wage.

While somewhat unusual, profit sharing is an approach taken by many businesses committed to a particular social mission, according to Northeastern University Professor of entrepreneurship and innovation Sara Minard.

“It is a very feasible model and is a practice commonly associated with social enterprises that are cooperatives, like REI,” Minard said in an email to The News. “[Dudley Dough’s idea] is fantastic – it’s rooted in the human value that work should be dignified and provide income that people can live the kind of lives on that they have reason to value.”

Employees will initially be paid $12.75 per hour, which will go up to $13.25 – not including bonuses from profit-sharing – when the venture becomes profitable, according to McKenna.

“The fact is, the minimum wage is too minimum,” McKenna said of the current $9 minimum wage in Massachusetts. “It doesn’t enable people to support their families without cobbling together two and three jobs…. And then low-income communities are suffering because who’s around? They’re all at their second job. Fixing that is the driving force behind Dudley Dough.”

The restaurant’s commitment to equality fosters a sense of community among workers, according to Leighton. The feeling is furthered by a non-traditional structure.

“Instead of having kind of a hierarchical structure, we all have some sort of responsibility to this place; we are all the, you know, managers,” Leighton said. “It takes a little bit of getting used to because you’re so used to the restaurant structure of ‘that’s the manager, that’s the boss, that is that, this is this,’  but it puts a lot of [responsibility] on us to really understand what our roles are here other than just being pizza makers.”

According to McKenna, success for Dudley Dough would include another aspect: expansion.  The restaurant, she said, wants to create a model worth replicating and leaders who can spread it to other places.

“Some of the profits we hope to generate…will be in a fund that we hope will be a seed fund for the next community in need,” McKenna said. “Maybe we’ll go to Mattapan Square next, or Codman Square – but our hope is we will be able to create a successful model that lets us create a profit, share it with our employees and replicate it in other neighborhoods of need.”

Photo by Scotty Schenck