As a graduate of Hope Now for Youth, a gangs-to-jobs ministry in Fresno that has helped more than 2500 gang members successfully leave that life, Rudy Marquez knew how desperately the young men on the streets longed for solutions the problems they faced, and also knew the hopelessness that characterized their everyday existence. He knew, because that had been him. But his experience at Hope Now gave him a caring relationship with mentors, work experience, and a vibrant faith in Jesus that set him on a new path. Rudy now leads Hope Now’s new social enterprise: Hope Now Street Food, a mobile food truck that serves an array of sumptuous ethnic specific foods, including Southeast Asian and Mexican and uses the business to train young men in the skills they will need to succeed, and not return to the gang life. Rudy had accumulated culinary experience over a decade, as well as the work ethic required in restaurant services. He and Hope Now Executive Director, Vanna In, put forward this social enterprise idea in the 2022 FPU Center for Community Transformation Spark Tank Pitch Fest. They were one of five winners! Following the monetary investment/award, Rudy went through the CCT’s Social Enterprise Academy – a two-month accelerator that helps social entrepreneurs be fully prepared to launch their enterprise. It was during the Academy that Rudy began to fully appreciate the potential for using the food truck to train young men in basic life skills. Social enterprises, like regular businesses, must be financially viable, but in addition, they must exist, manage and measure for a particular social impact. In the case of Hope Now Street Food, that impact is helping young men learn employable skills, work experience, teamwork, and to provide sustainable financial solutions for their families.
I visited the new food truck during their debut at Art Hop in November, and aside from a brief hiccup with some of their equipment, the first night was a roaring success. I had a combination plate that included Asian egg rolls with a really fresh, savory salsa, and sticky rice with chicken, washed down with delicious Thai iced tea. The full plate was well worth the $10. The Food Truck was immaculate, though it didn’t yet have their logo – an expense that they are saving for. Rudy was inside with two other young men preparing and serving, and a crew of three other young men were outside with Vanna, organizing supplies and answering customer questions. Vanna says, “We learned so much that night that will be useful moving ahead. The training of these young men is invaluable, and the revenue generated will help us sustain our normal work.”
Rudy’s wife and three kids showed up that night, proud of his accomplishment, and looking forward to all the potential represented by this new initiative. Redemption comes in all shapes and sizes. In a life, it looks like the amazing man Rudy Marquez has become. In Social Enterprise, it is business itself that is redeemed – returned to its original purpose – to be a blessing to individuals made in the image of God, and to their community.
See a summary of the 2022 Spark Tank Expo