Downtown KC restaurant owner giving jobs and second chances to former criminals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A criminal record isn't preventing a metro restaurant owner from hiring employees.

The owner of Anton's Taproom in downtown KC is giving some people a second chance.

“I was calling him up every day, telling him I can come down here and work, and they finally gave me an opportunity,” said Robert, who didn’t want his last name used.

Robert has been an employee at Anton’s Taproom for a little over a year and said he's thankful his boss took a chance hiring him.

“It meant a lot because I didn't have a job at the time," he said. "I wasn't able to support my family the way I wanted to."

Robert went to prison at 22 years old for selling crack cocaine. Now, he's washing dishes, making money and says he's turning his life around.

“I showed him I can handle the job,” Robert said. “It really means a lot because I can do things for my kids. That's really all I care about, being able to support my kids.”

And it's all thanks to the restaurant owner, Anton Kotar.

“They all have aspirations, I think, of trying to get their lives together," Kotar said. "They want out of the halfway houses. They want out of the system."

Kotar opened his steakhouse farm-to-table restaurant and butcher shop in 2012. Since then, he's hired nearly two dozen people with criminal backgrounds.

“It's a matter of: Do you want a job? You're going to do what we say, and you're going to get a chance," Kotar said. "If somebody makes a mistake, we're going to work it out together if we can."

Robert said he doesn't know many other business owners who would have done the same.

“Based on what I was doing and how I was dressed, I don't think a lot of people would have given me the opportunity,” Robert said.

Kotar said a lot of the people he hires have rough backgrounds, but they match tough positions -- cleaning dishes until the wee hours of the morning.

“Those guys, they leave here at 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3 in the morning sometimes, and when they leave, some of them have to walk,” Kotar said. He added they often try to find them rides home.

Kotar said he's tough on them if they do get the job but does everything he can to mentor them and keep them out of trouble -- even paying them a starting salary of $10 an hour, which is higher than minimum wage.

“In most of our cases, we get really good people," Kotar said. "They're good people who have made some bad decisions, and that's the main thing, changing their decision-making process."