Inmates to Entrepreneurs: Chuck Manning

When Chuck Manning returned home from jail, the father of four struggled to find a job. “There was like a roller coaster of emotions,” Manning said. “First, I’m happy and I’m grateful that I’m out and I’m free and I see my kids. But, at the same time, when I’m going to apply for these jobs so I can support my kids, it was hurt.”

He got his first break from his uncle, who needed someone to help cook chicken and fixings on a big smoker grill for a 700-person community event. It was a volunteer job and Manning knew he was not going to make any money. He said “yes” anyway. He did it to support his uncle and to help the community in which he grew up.

Manning’s cooking was a hit and he reconnected with people he had known for years. He realized that catering was something he could do as his own business.

Manning was no stranger to being an entrepreneur. He began selling a range of different products when he was in elementary school and continued as he got older. When he was 20 years old, Manning started Kountry Boy Entertainment, which promoted parties and comedy shows. That was all before he went to prison.

After the catering event with his uncle, Manning decided to try it on his own. He borrowed the smoker grill from his uncle and spent a little less than $200 on the food, plates, coals, and lighter fluid. He did his marketing on Facebook and by word of mouth. When the big day came, Manning was cautiously optimistic. The results were terrific: he sold 75 plated dinners at $10 each, resulting in $750 of revenues. That is how Kwu Catering was born.

Manning is a smart businessman, so he did not run out and buy a smoker grill. Instead, he borrowed grills from his friends and family. When he had enough money, he bought his own grill. Then, to gain more business skills, Manning took the Inmates to Entrepreneurs course in his town. The group met once a week for eight weeks, with a graduation at the last class.

Manning is constantly busy these days, managing Kwu Catering, working with the City of Durham on reentry and community engagement, assisting local nonprofits, and helping teach Inmates to Entrepreneurs courses.

“That one chance can make or break someone,” Manning noted about the day his uncle gave him a chance.

Today Manning is the one who is helping give a hand-up to those who need it. “I see guys who really need that one chance to change their life.”

Inmates to Entrepreneurs’ free course, Starter U, is available online and on Edovo tablets in prisons and jails throughout the country. For more info. about Inmate to Entrepreneurs: