Local restaurateur recalls road to success

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(WJLA) - Restaurateur Matt Haley calls the shots. But before he successfully scaled this precarious business to the top, he learned as a child what it’s like at the bottom.

“I found booze man, you know, when I was in seventh or eighth grade," he said.

Soon, the fresh-faced high-school student discovered the harder stuff:

“By the time I was 30 years old, I was shooting dope and smoking crack."

Haley ended up serving two years behind bars for drug dealing, and then a judge transferred him to a treatment facility, which required him to have a job. So at the age of 34, Haley got a grunt job in a restaurant working for a chef who saw potential.

“I started out washing dishes and cutting vegetables, and slowly but surely, he taught me to cook," he explained.

Fast forward 15 years, and Haley is on the Eastern Shore, where he presides over a restaurant empire.

“I didn't know how to do this stuff when I was in prison...I came down here with no money, I had nothing, no place to stay, I came down for a day to look at something and I never left."

Despite his success, Haley still isn't content. He is working on a new restaurant, which will open in a couple weeks – it will be his eighth.

The Matt Haley company reportedly now owns and operates 27 different business, employing 1,000 people and generating about $50 million per year in revenue.

Haley also returns to D.C. often to the Crossroads Treatment Center in Alexandria, and gives his time to help others:

“I truly believe that this facility saved my life…It's important for a guy like me to let people know that they no longer have to live the way they were living," he said. "If I can do it, anybody can do it."

Instead of lush vacations, Haley works tirelessly on a constellation of causes: he builds schools in Latin America, combats human trafficking in Asia, and spends several months a year in Nepal, where is he raising three girl he rescued from a prostitution ring – one just nine years old at the time:

“She came up to me and she put her head on my shoulder and she looked up at me and she said, 'Dad, you saved our lives.' But what she didn't know is that she had saved mine."

Haley says if someone hadn't given him a chance, he would have died long ago. That is why he spends so much time with ex-cons and addicts, hoping to show them an example of how you can change your life.