Joe Powers of Rochester, Minn.’s Powers Ventures operates the successful Canadian Honker Restaurant and Catering organization, and beyond business success, he’s personally set a fine example of how small businesses can give back and improve their communities.
Powers and friends created the Community Food Response program in 1993, in which the group partnered with Rochester’s Bethel Lutheran Church to find ways to save and redistribute food from catered events, weddings, restaurants and other sources to the needy in the city. In addition to feeding the hungry, Powers’ commitment to helping the less fortunate includes a 10 percent donation of net sales back into the community, supporting organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the United Way and the Salvation Army, as well as veteran’s organizations.
Community Food Response Beginnings
A Rochester native, Powers says he was guided by the extraordinary history and dedication of the Mayo Clinic and its partners, the Sisters of Saint Francis. Today, the Canadian Honker Restaurant stands across from Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus.
“My parents always taught us to give back,” Powers says. “Back when I first started out with the restaurant and had no money, my Dad asked me to make a charitable donation, and somehow I found a way to do it. It started a trend, and I’ve never looked back.”
Though Powers has expanded his business from the single facility to many, including a baking division, a hotel site, plus a 2,500-capacity party and event facility, he's maintained that commitment, and the business has grown steadily every year.
Powers says Community Food Response came about 21 years ago, during regular chats over beer with a doctor friend after they played hockey. After two years of throwing the idea around, they made it happen, first partnering with the church and quickly rounding up volunteers. Today, the organization provides for Monday, Wednesday and Friday food pickups for people in the community who face hunger, who need only tell CFR the number of people in their families and any dietary restrictions.
Reducing Waste, Feeding the Hungry, Helping Employees
Powers points out that a huge amount of food is wasted in this country every year, and saw that firsthand in how much would be left after his company served weddings and weekend events. He put together a process for separating and set aside the surplus, and now on a Monday following a big event, there’s “fruit, salad, dinner rolls, chicken breast, roast beef and dessert” share with people who otherwise might go without.
Powers says the policy also makes employees feel good about their work, and he also tries to engage them in other charitable efforts, as well, such as finding ways to help their own friends and families, service groups and so on.
“They’re involved in it all, and they’re the deciding factor,” he says. “We can’t help every cause, but we can help as many as possible.”
With a focus on children, hunger issues, the needs of veterans, and clothing, food and shelter charities, Powers Ventures does a lot. Powers also has created programs to directly aid his own employees, such as low interest loans to help them with housing and transportation, as needed.
Setting an Example for Small-Business Giving
Powers says he personally reviews and handles the majority of the requests for donations, and his efforts are not "just about good PR."
“It’s a very important job, and frankly, I really enjoy it,” he says. "We’re a giving society in this country – if everyone helps out a little, it helps a lot. Small business can do a great deal, unlike the corporate side, where they’re concerned first about stocks and returns. Doing this sort of thing, it’s the best money you could spend. It’s the most rewarding thing and the most employee motivating. It makes our reputation. People see we’re a great company, and it makes them want to do business with us in turn. And it makes you feel good. It’s a good way to keep yourself humble in an age of ‘profits, profits, profits.’”