The produce at Misfits Market isn’t the only thing that’s organic. So, too, is the contagious energy that emanates from its warehouse floor when I stopped by their North Philadelphia facility for a visit. Viewed from the top of some steep metal stairs that lead to office space, the scene below is one of constant movement and sound. Workers dressed in white coveralls listen to music and lightheartedly tease each other while packing ugly but edible fruits and vegetables into boxes.
Founded in 2018, Misfits sells flawed but flavorful fruits and vegetables that might not be the prettiest of the bunch but come at a discount, via subscription and home delivery. The business is growing, and so is its reputation for paying a decent, entry-level wage — $13 an hour — to workers whose resumes might have a few blemishes of their own.
Jamal Glass, 32, spent a month frantically looking for jobs online after he was released from prison. Then a friend who worked for Misfits suggested he apply. He worried that the felony on his criminal record would count against him, but he was relieved when he was offered a job as a packer.
“It was hard for me to adapt, coming home, starting from scratch,” Glass said. “I was going through a real stressful time, and getting this job made me feel better about myself. I most definitely was surprised at how quick they got me in here, and by the starting pay. It made me feel like I could actually start providing for my family.”
Ismael Colon, 27, admits that when he first started at Misfits he was still selling drugs on the side. But he stopped, happy to give up “good money for legit money.”
Misfits CEO Abhi Ramesh says offering second chances is part of the Misfits mission.
“Eliminating barriers to access is a cornerstone of our business," he says, “whether that’s making healthy food affordable to all or putting gainful employment within reach of those who need a second chance. We’ve discovered a dedicated, industrious talent pool in formerly incarcerated people. As a result, we’ve actively recruited workers who may have been overlooked or dismissed by other employers.”
For now, Misfits employees hail mostly from Philly, though Ramesh concedes it didn’t happen by design. When the company was expanding and needed a bigger workforce, he turned to Craigslist. Serendipitously, those who applied for jobs at the 12,000 square-foot Germantown Avenue warehouse happened to be mostly young, black, and Latino men and women from nearby neighborhoods attracted by the starting pay, the short commute, and, for some, a chance to join or rejoin the workforce.
Many of the employees said that to get a similar starting pay rate, they’d have to commute to jobs outside the city, which would require long, expensive commutes that would cut into their time and wallets.
Word of mouth often makes hiring at Misfits a family affair: After searching for a job for several months, Donte Lee’s cousin referred him to Misfits. He started the same day he interviewed, he said.
His seven-minute commute to the warehouse doesn’t just keep more of his paycheck in his pocket, he said. It also allows the 29-year-old father to spend more time with his 4-year-old daughter — a big fruit eater who has become a more discerning one since Lee started working at Misfits.
“Before it was mostly strawberries and mangoes,” he said. “Now I’m like, baby, I got so much fruit for you from work. The other day we had star fruit, and it was good.”
Lee had been on the job only a few months before he was promoted to supervisor.
“I did not expect that to happen, but I worked hard for it,” he says, proudly.
The potential for upward advancement is a big reason that there’s been so little turnover among the crew of about 200.
Yolanda Torres, for example, started off as a packer but was quickly promoted to quality control and sanitation.
Recently widowed, she said that the work has been therapeutic. She also enjoys the potential of being part of such a new company.
“As they grow, we grow,” said Torres, who noted that staff was getting free pizza that day as a reward for hitting their packing numbers.
One result of all that hard work is that Misfits is outgrowing its current location. This fall, the company will relocate to a larger — 140,800-square-feet — warehouse in Pennsauken, which may create a longer commute for some Philly residents they’ve hired but has already created opportunities for new employees who hail from nearby locales, including Camden.
Ramesh said he hopes to soon offer health insurance to his employees and is also planning creative activities designed to keep them excited about coming to work, like cooking competitions and financial literacy workshops.
Meanwhile, he touts buying locally, and hiring locally, too.
“I think they’re missing an amazing opportunity,” he said of companies that don’t actively seek to hire local residents. “It should be part of their mission to help empower the community and help offer more opportunity for folks who live here.”