A Higher Calling

June 4, 2019

Food Truck Business Dedicated to Teens Who Need Help

Jessica Leal and Rachel Smith have always had a special place in their hearts for children in foster care. But for coffee? Not so much. What started as a mission to serve others in need turned out to serve local communities at large.

Leal and Smith met at the University of Oklahoma while studying social work. From there, they both interned at the Cleveland County Department of Human Services, where they saw firsthand the lack of resources for teenagers aging out of foster care. After graduating, both women started working at Canadian County DHS. As their time with the department grew, so did their passion for helping teenagers.

“We began to see how the lack of resources translated to poor outcomes for the older children in foster care,” Leal said.

While the women had no background in coffee or waffles, they decided waffles and coffee might be the ticket some kids needed to power their transitions out of the foster care system. By opening a business, they could employ the teens and help them find avenues of opportunity.

Smith’s dad suggested the women start with a food truck – a more feasible option for new business owners, who also had full-time jobs at DHS. After months of meetings with local businesses, coffee roasters and waffle suppliers, Leal and Smith brought Red Bird Coffee Cart to life.

They purchased a food truck and opened their business in April 2017. Months later, Smith left DHS to operate the truck full-time. Leal wasn’t far behind. Together, the women work to promote the cart and schedule operations at events across the metro, serving their specialized version of coffee and waffles.

“It’s definitely a full-time job for both of us,” Smith said.

The cart serves EOTE brand coffee and Liege makes the waffles by hand, which is a 24-hour process. They are made with pearl sugar that caramelizes and pairs well with coffee.

As of now, the cart is not ideal to employ teenagers. However, the brick and mortar location they dream of opening is on the horizon. Leal and Smith have had conversations about a location in Yukon, but that move is on hold for now. If that spot doesn’t work out, they’re confident the right place will eventually present itself.

In the meantime, Leal and Smith are developing a network of mentors to partner with teens, transitioning into adulthood, and they hope they will soon be able to provide jobs and a support system.

“They need more than just a job, and we want to give them that,” Smith said. “The goal is not to work as a barista their whole life.”

Leal and Smith work local chambers of commerce and rotary clubs to build a list of business professionals they hope to collaborate with in the future. They are seeking professionals in diverse fields so the teens can choose the path they want, whether it’s banking, engineering or a job in construction.

The Red Bird Coffee Cart travels around the metro, and it can be booked for any event. More information is available at theredbirdcoffee.wordpress.com. – BSM