For Jim Hayden, owning a business is more about making a difference through the people you help than your profit margins or bottom line.
“I’ve wanted to support people all my life,” said Hayden, the owner of MOD Pizza in Belmont Market in Langford. “I’ve always been the automatic designated driver, first to try and help wherever I can.”
While assisting people with mental health issues has been at the forefront of his efforts, Hayden also supports the Goldstream Food Bank and other initiatives in the community. Those efforts, however, were tested severely following the suicide of his younger brother, William, in January of 2010.
“Will was top of his class in economics and business at Simon Fraser University, but struggled with mental health most of his life,” Hayden said. “I saw firsthand the highs and lows he went through dealing with those issues. It had a profound effect on me.”
Although the family arranged counselling for Will as soon as they noticed signs, he caught everyone off guard when he decided to pack up and travel to California, and then on to Australia.
“We noticed he was struggling more but couldn’t do much with him in Australia. He seemed very elusive, My parents were particularly worried the last week. They were planning a trip to Australia because of their concerns about the lack of communication,” Hayden recalled.
When Hayden called his brother the night before Will took his own life, Will said he was going camping in the Blue Mountains.
“I told him I didn’t think he should do that alone and that dad had booked a flight to Australia. My parents got the call at 3 a.m. the next morning,” he said.
“I went through a deep depression. I don’t think people realize the scope of mental health issues and suicide until it hits close to home. I needed six months off and counselling and spent a lot of time with my family. It was really tough, a complete blur. Mental health isn’t something a bandage can fix. It takes time, patience and resources.”
Once he was back at work, though, Hayden said people started reaching out to him to talk about their own personal demons.
“I’ve always had an open book relationship with my employees,” explained Hayden, who has been involved in the restaurant industry for about 15 years, the last 10 as an owner. “I had a bit of an epiphany and asked myself how I can do good and help other people through my restaurant.”
Since that time, Hayden has raised more than $50,000 for the Vancouver Island branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association through a variety of fundraisers.
MOD Pizza, which Hayden opened in December 2019, is the American company’s first franchise in Canada. The emphasis the company puts on giving back to the community was a major factor in Hayden’s decision. “MOD Pizza’s motto is Pizza With a Purpose. I was really impressed with the MOD Bridge Fund, which sets aside a portion of profits to help staff that are going through a rough patch.”
The fund helped provide free counselling for one of Hayden’s young employees in need. “It’s hugely rewarding to see the positive difference it made for that person. The feedback from that individual has been awesome.”
Hayden’s goal is to build more restaurants so he can use them as a platform to help others. “I want them to be gathering places where people struggling with mental health and addiction issues can find support.”
“I see myself more as a guidance counsellor than a business owner. My philosophy has always been that it’s as much about the people you help as the product you serve. If you put your employees first, everything else will follow.”
The fact that former employees often wander in simply for a hug or to say hello attests to the fact Hayden’s approach is working.