By Steffanie Rosalez | TheRapidian.com
Local food truck gives back to the community by supporting youth programs.
The lunch menu suggestions from students at the Cook Arts Center’s summer program were not surprising: when you ask kids what they want to eat responses like these are pretty typical. What was surprising: the willing chefs of What the Truck, nodding and inviting kids to take a look at their equipment, encouraging them to be creative and help plan the menu for the rest of the week.
This summer, the brightly colored food truck proved to be more than just a healthy street food option. For three days in a row, right around lunch time the truck pulled up to the Cook Arts Center and invited children on board to help cook lunch for their peers. Not only were kids having a blast learning to cook and hanging out with the chefs, but more than 40 healthy lunches were served to students and staff each day – all courtesy of What the Truck.
Paul Lee and his wife, owners of the comically named truck and also of The Winchester at 648 Wealthy, started serving healthy street fare three years ago in Grand Rapids when they recognized the need for healthier, locally grown options on the street – something more than hotdogs. Inspired by the many options in other cities, Lee decided that Grand Rapids deserved something just as special. The Winchester was already providing innovative cuisine in a welcoming and unique space, but that wasn’t enough for the local entrepreneur.
“What the Truck is an extension of the Winchester,” Lee says. “It allows for us to reach a greater audience and provide something unique to the City.”
And Lee really meant it when he said he wanted to reach a greater audience, but not in the way that you would first imagine. The truck was going on it’s third year in Grand Rapids and was doing well, so Lee started looking to give back with the truck in mind. Eventually he connected with Lori Slager, co-founder and Director of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC), a new non-profit that’s getting started just down the street from The Winchester. They’re moving into the neighborhood with a mission to prepare kids for life’s adventures by supporting their writing and amplifying their voices.
“When we heard about the Creative Youth Center we knew it was something we wanted to get involved with,” says Lee, who remembers attending programs like the ones the CYC offers when he was a child. He recalls parts of his youth at the Ottawa Hills Branch of the GR Public Library; memories of pumpkin carving contests, summer reading clubs and quality time with friends in a safe and imaginative place. Lee was excited to support a place that was providing youth with those same types of opportunities.
One of these ongoing opportunities for youth is the CYC’s collaborative program with Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, the “GAAH Press Club.” Press Club students venture into different parts of Grand Rapids for new experiences, and then write about those experiences as journalists for The Rapidian. So when Slager heard that kids would have the opportunity to be “chef for a day” for What the Truck, she was excited for the Press Club to have a new experience to write about.
“This was a fun opportunity for our Press Club,” says Slager. “[It allowed] them to report on a local event and be seen by the younger kids as true journalists.” The club will be completing their articles later this week, and Slager will be publishing them on The Rapidian when they’re ready.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Lee and his wife had in mind when they included “being good stewards of the neighborhood and community” in the mission statement for their business. Not only do they aim to be the best bar in Grand Rapids, but they see being a solid part of the community as more than just being a successful business.
“If we’re not giving back to the community, especially the neighborhood where we live and work, then we become a society of takers and not givers,” says Lee. “Maybe it’s because I grew up with so many siblings and we HAD to share, but it goes with having a business in our community. There’s only so much we can take before it’s no longer there for anyone.”
So far, this philosophy has served Lee and his community well. Not only have he and his wife provided excellent food and services to the community, but inspiration as well. When Slager talks about how supportive they have been of the CYC, she mentions that “it’s their kind of enthusiasm that inspires us to keep working for the kids in our community.”
For more information about the food truck and its whereabouts, you can visit the What the Truck Facebook Page or follow “TacotruckGR” on Twitter. They also have a website that links to both accounts at www.whathetruckgr.com.