Last year, Shane Wilbanks and members of a parole and probation mentoring ministry formed Second Chance Enterprises with the hope of offering career opportunities to people with criminal records.

The group started a landscaping business and began selling spice rubs and sauces with the goal of opening a restaurant in Conway.

When Big House Burger Joint opened recently that goal was realized.

Wilbanks and his staff of former inmates are now proudly serving residents a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items inside the Sale Barn at 1100 Amity Road.

The prison-themed menu features selections such as the Jail Bird, a pulled smoked chicken sandwich, Folsom Fries, the quarter-pound Juvie burger and the Solitary Confinement a la carte choices.

Wilbanks said Big House Burger Joint is family friendly and the kind of place where patrons “can sit in here and drink coffee for hours.”

Although a criminal record is part of the criteria for employment, it is not the only factor in the hiring process.

“The people working at Big House Burger Joint have to be plugged into our ministry,” Wilbanks said. “They have to attend our Monday night meetings. We use our ministry to get to know them.”

Wilbanks said any former inmate can be a part of the mentoring ministry.

“We get referrals from drug court, the department of correction,” Wilbanks said. “We openly advertise that we are a Christ-centered ministry, and not everybody is for that, but I get two to three phone calls a day from people interested in the ministry.”

Wilbanks said the ministry began as a way to help people recently released from prison re-enter society.

“We’re here to help people coming back to the community,” Wilbanks said. “We want to help with the difficulties of finding housing, employment and making good decisions.”

Wilbanks acknowledged the concern some people may have at visiting an establishment such as Big House Burger Joint.

“There’s certainly a concern,” Wilbanks said, “but these people want to prove society wrong. They want to show people that the expectations of them are incorrect. They have just as much desire as anyone else to work and put out a good product.”

Wilbanks said the restaurant’s slogan sums up its staff.

“Quality with conviction,” Wilbanks said. “These people have motivation like no other. These guys look at this as a challenge.”

For more information on Big House Burger Joint or Second Chance Enterprises, visit www.bighouseburgerjoint.com.

(Staff writer Stephanie Fischer can be reached by e-mail at stephanie.fischer@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1238. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)