Shaun Lee is smart, spiritual and entrepreneurial. That combination took the executive vice president for operations at Haven For Hope to the top of his executive 2013 MBA class at UTSA with a winning business idea to marry job training for homeless workers with food trucks and the bounty of a farmer’s market every day of the week.
It’s called Truckin’ Tomato, and if Lee’s $40,000 fundraising campaign succeeds at indiegogo.com (click to view their campaign page), the Truckin’ Tomato trailer could be parked in your neighborhood or company parking lot, open for business, by January 2014. If the idea really takes off, Truckin’ Tomato could quickly become two, three or more trailers popping up throughout San Antonio.
UPDATED on Dec. 17,2013: After gathering almost $15,000 in crowdsourced investments via Indiegogo, hopeful mobile farmer’s market Truckin’ Tomato is looking to raise more for the finishing touches via a new Kickstarter campaign.
“We have funded the 30ft. trailer build for our mobile farmer’s market. Now we need to raise $5,000 to give the trailer a facelift,” states the campaign page at www.kickstarter.com.
If you can’t make the Saturday morning farmer’s market closest to you, there is now a good chance the farmer’s market will come to you, operating all week-long, not just Saturdays.
Lee hopes his soon-to-be-launched business will pump tens of thousands of dollars in annual profits into operations at the Christian Hope Resource Center (CHRC) on the city’s Westside, which serves families in crisis by providing them with groceries and a range of family assistance programs. Anyone who has seen the long lines of vehicles picking up food packages at its headquarters at 321 N. Gen. McMullen Dr. knows the CHRC is meeting enormous inner-city needs.
There’s an element of “Feeding the Multitude and the Miracle of Seven Loaves and Two Fish“ to this story. Lee aims to take limited, high-end food sales to a relatively small customer base and convert those profits into enough basic foodstuffs to feed many families in need.
“Basically, we will offer everything you’d find on a Saturday morning at the Pearl’s Farmer Market,” Lee said. “So if you can’t get to the Pearl or another farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, we can come to you. The idea is to offer the best of San Antonio.”
Austin-based Farm to Table, which distributes locally grown farm products to area restaurants, commercial kitchens, cafeterias and independent grocery stores, has agreed to provide Truckin’ Tomato with product at cost, Lee said, meaning the startup will enjoy a higher margin of profit than if they paid the same prices as commercial customers.
Lee’s target customer is someone with an appreciation for locally sourced foods and the social karma that comes with creating job training opportunities for homeless men and women working to rebuild their lives. Haven graduates will interact with farmers, learn about pick-up and delivery, retail sales and customer service.
Lee’s idea was ranked first among the proposed new businesses in his executive MBA class at UTSA. But the business plan has found support outside the classroom, too.
Lorenzo Gomez, executive director of Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation, loved the idea when it first crossed his computer screen. The Foundation provided Lee with seed money to get him where he is today, ready for a broader fund-raising effort prior to launch early next year.
“Truckin’ Tomato hits right in the heart of the foundation’s goals for San Antonio,” 80/20 Foundation Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez said. “The project is adding a great urban option to downtown residents while displaying an example of social entrepreneurship.”
VIA executives also like the idea and are exploring ways to help Lee solve the challenge of hauling the Truckin’ Tomato trailer from site to site around the city, an endeavor not unlike hauling a disabled bus from a given location to a repair facility. Lee said Truckin’ Tomato hopes to acquire its own tow truck to take the distinctive painted red trailer to different venues, such as the main UTSA campus and to companies like Valero and Rackspace.
Sound like something you’d support? Watch the fundraising campaign video by Carlos Maestas of Key Ideas to learn more and get an inside look at the Truckin’ Tomato bus at indiegogo.com/projects/truckintomato, which went live Wednesday night.
As of Sept. 29, contributions to the Truckin’ Tomato campaign are tax deductible. To achieve this, Lee and his team have had to reboot their campaign page. In only 10 days, they’ve obtained about $8,000 of their $40,000 goal.
Haven For Hope, which opened in 2010, is the most ambitious program addressing homelessness and treating its root causes in the nation. Now Truckin’ Tomato appears to be the first business that will create a mobile job training site especially for Haven graduates. And any unsold product will go straight to the Haven for use in its kitchens.
Lee hopes that Haven graduates who train with Truckin’ Tomato employees one day will qualify for employment at H-E-B, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.