Part farmers market and part food truck, Truckin’ Tomato is a mobile source for fresh, local produce and food products. Rolling around the Alamo City since May of this year, the 30-foot trailer parks at venues across town five days a week, including churches, offices, apartment buildings, parks and at special events (see truckintomato.com for a calendar with locations and times).
Shaun Lee founded Truckin’ Tomato last summer as a way to increase access to healthy fresh foods. The idea was born during the final semester of Lee’s executive MBA program at University of Texas—San Antonio. Native to St. Louis, Mo., Lee earned his masters degree in social work in 2003 and worked with an organization there to provide job training to the homeless. Haven for Hope later recruited Lee and in 2008 his family relocated to Texas. He served as Haven’s executive vice president through the end of June, resigning to focus his efforts on the Tomato.
The custom-built trailer made by Texas Cart Builder in Houston includes 20 feet of produce display shelves, a bakery case and a two-way refrigerator stocked with Revolucion coffee and juice, along with freestanding baskets for easy shopping. Inside, there are produce storage areas and a freezer, as well as a a food prep area for future use with three sinks, a large cutting board counter and space for additional freezers.
Farms from around Central and South Texas provide Truckin’ Tomato with produce ranging from melons, berries and citrus to peppers, greens, potatoes, tomatoes and more. “Farms come to us two or three times a week, or about every other day, depending on demand,” explained Lee. Non-produce items—juice, coffee, energy bars, jams, condiments, gluten-free organic tamales, etc.—are replenished as needed.
But more than just a mobile market, Truckin’ Tomato is a social enterprise. The business has partnered with Christian Hope Resource Center (CHRC), a nonprofit organization that provides food and social services to some 2,500 households every month. Most of the trailer’s revenue goes directly to CHRC, which serves as TT’s operational home base. “We receive all our orders there, have a carved-out space in their warehouse, park the trailer there and plug it in overnight,” said Lee. “We set up Truckin’ Tomato as a franchise model, so that if we expand we’ll have a nonprofit partner for each trailer.”
This summer, Lee will kick Truckin’ Tomato into a higher gear. “I’m going to be spending more time on expansion of the business model, adding an e-commerce function and a subscription service where people can order ahead of time.” Eventually, Lee plans for his business to partner with Haven for Hope. “We’re taking the summer to figure out our whole model, stabilize our procedures and see how it works best to run things. Then, we’re going to work with Haven as a part of their job training program, to give people actual real-life job experience. If it works out well, we’ll consider them for employment.”