The next time you enjoy a delicious plate of Hattie’s fried chicken, you’ll know that the dollars that you spent on it went to a good cause. Philanthropists and entrepreneurs Ed Mitzen, the CEO of Saratoga Springs–based healthcare agency Fingerpaint, and his wife, Lisa, have unveiled what they’re calling the Business for Good foundation, through which they’ll acquire and accelerate small businesses in the Capital Region, one of which is Saratoga’s historic Hattie’s Restaurant.
The way the Mitzen’s Business for Good works is it will acquire an area business, provide its full-time employees with fully covered healthcare benefits and competitive salaries—even raises!—and foster a working environment that could be even better than what they had before. The only change will be that, instead of the business trying to be or become profitable, all of the business’ profits will go directly to local charitable causes. The idea is that not much upheaval comes to the business itself during the handover—i.e. there won’t be staff cuts or furloughs—and all it has to do is relinquish its financial overhead to the foundation.
The acquisition of Hattie’s dates back to earlier this year, per the foundation’s co-founder Ed Mitzen, who reached out to the restaurant’s co-owners Beth and Jasper Alexander about doing something “special” with their business. “Everybody that’s from here knows that the Hattie who started it [was quoted as saying], ‘I don’t want to be famous; I don’t want to be rich; I just want to help people,'” says Mitzen. “So you look at that, from which that business was started, and our ability to work with Beth and Jasper to take it to a new place and make it live on with her legacy is, I think, really exciting for them.”
The Alexanders, along with their longtime staffers, will stay on at Hattie’s.
By no means does this change what has made Hattie’s one of Saratoga’s most iconic (and delicious) small businesses, with two locations in the Spa City, as well as a seasonal outpost at Saratoga Race Course. In fact, Mitzen says that the idea will be to actually grow the business beyond its Saratoga footprint. “We have plans to expand locations into Albany and other communities,” he says, “and the goal is to provide good-paying jobs for people in some of the less affluent communities and also donate all the money that we make to charities in those areas.”
If the business model sounds familiar, it’s because the Mitzens have already put it in action, having acquired Saratoga’s long-running Bread Basket Bakery last summer and pivoting it into a pipeline for charitable funds (at the ribbon-cutting for the newly transformed bakery last October, the Mitzens presented a $25,000 check to Troy’s Capital Roots). The inspiration behind it, says Mitzen, came from serving for 15 years on the board of the Double H Ranch, which was co-founded by Hollywood star Paul Newman. “If you look at the Newman’s Own model, where he basically started a salad dressing company and expanded it and donated over $100 million to various charities, it seems like an interesting model where you can take the ownership profit out of it,” says Mitzen. “The only way this works is if I can convince the people that have made these businesses so successful to stay and go on this journey with us.”
Business for Good, which has a staff of five full-time employees at the moment—including CEO Jahkeen Hoke, whom Saratoga Living named one of its “10 Under 40” local philanthropists in 2019—has a portfolio that also includes Handsome Cock Farm, a property in Voorheesville and the former Lombardo’s restaurant in Albany. The initiative has already secured $4.4 million in grants across New York State.
“My goal is to have this be sustainable, and I would love my legacy, and I think Lisa feels the same way, to be this,” says Mitzen. And it’ll be a Mitzen family legacy, too: The Mitzens’ three children are serving on the foundation’s board. “It was important for me to involve them and this, and I think they’re very excited as well.”