After Troy Harris and Kareem Wallace worked in the kitchen of University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel, they opened a Kosher Grassroots food truck in 2014. Because Wallace and Harris are motivated by a vision for social justice, their truck not only provides delicious catering services and meals but also opportunities for disadvantaged adolescents and young adults in Philadelphia. After I was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Harris and Wallace, I realized that their mission extends far beyond a Philly Kosher food truck.
Bullhorn (BH): How did you start this business? Essentially, how did you turn your vision into a reality?
Troy Harris & Kareem Wallace (TH & KW): In 2014 we opened the food truck. We had met a lot of good people who chipped in to help along the way. While working in the Jewish community, we realized how much we liked and admired their values, so we wanted to relay them into our own communities.
BH: What is working in a food truck like?
TH & KW: It is a different, unique experience. It is a smaller space but we treat it like it is a regular kitchen. We have grown acquainted with some regular customers and orders on Sundays. Overall, it is a great experience.
BH: What would be your advice to students who want to start their own business?
TH & KW: Never give up. Don’t let the word “no” discourage you. Don’t surround yourself with people who doubt you and say you won’t make it. This doubt specifically negatively impacts the urban community. Also, we keep our faith and put God in front of what we’re doing.
BH: What would be your advice to students who have a vision for social justice?
TH & KW: Get acquainted with people in your neighborhood. Spend time researching what’s going on inside and outside of your community. Put your heart behind everything you do. If you believe in and connect deeply with your community, there is nothing stopping you.
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BH: As I previously mentioned, the Bullhorn has readers and reporters from all over the city which naturally includes students from economically disadvantaged communities. I know that you guys have a strong interest in these kids, so what would you say to them? Especially if they’ve been feeling down and even hopeless throughout the pandemic?
TH & KW: Don’t give up. Open up more and expand to people and things outside of your community. Try and turn negatives into positives.
Harris and Wallace talked to me about the purpose and larger goals of their Food Truck business. In the near future, they want to utilize their staunch support network to turn into a bigger business. While the food truck is their first step, they eventually want to create a Grassroots-oriented building that supports urban communities, helps students organize their lives, and reciprocates the support that they’ve experienced. Harris and Wallace say that the purpose of Grassroots is to encourage people to grow; Grassroots leaves no room for failure or exclusivity. Grassroots is all about giving opportunities to people who lack them due to factors out of their control.
Essentially, their business plan is designed around a Grassroots academy. In the academy, leaders would work with students for a few months with the goal that the young adults would leave the program with a job, culinary skills, references, and a safe place. Harris and Wallace would want to start kids at a young age with hopes that they’ll have the tools and confidence to advance in society.
Harris and Wallace explained that help doesn’t exist in the urban community but they want to change that. They want to go out and help people such as young mothers and homeowners while changing the outlook of public wealth and building equity in communities. First, the businessmen would start in Philadelphia, extend to Pennsylvania, and eventually expand across the country.
Harris and Wallace stress that a common message from society is that people don’t care about the children in the Philly school district shown through the lack of funding, staff, resources, and opportunities. But their massive Grassroots vision contradicts this damaging message; it asserts that there are people who care about Philadelphia students and that they are the future regardless of the lack of funds and textbooks. If Harris and Wallace can change one person’s life for the better, that will make all of the difference and propel them to keep expanding. They just want to change lives and do the best job that they can.