Maybe it was the Vendy Awards (which we sadly missed, due to conflicts with Taste Talks), but we’re just loving on food trucks this week. And we were especially happy to hear that one of our new favorites recently walked away with the Rookie of the Year prize—the maple syrup-centric Snowday, a subsidiary of the not-for-profit organization, Drive Change.
Borne out of so much more than a desire to circumvent brick-and-mortar costs, or indulge in madcap, handheld, multi-ethnic culinary explorations, Snowday and Drive Change are social enterprises, designed around hiring, educating and empowering young people recently released from the prison system. And Jordyn Lexton is the brains (and heart) of the operation; a former teacher at Rikers Island, looking for a way to halt the dead-end, self-destructive cycle facing incarcerated adolescents.
“New York is actually one of two states where 16-year-olds are imprisoned as adults, and working with inmates aged 16-18, I was witnessing first hand the crippling impact of the system on youth,” Lexton explained. “Many of my students were filled with potential; wanting to go on towards full, bright futures. But the barrier that they faced by way of employment and educational opportunities were often so large, that many of them would often recycle back into the system and into my classroom.”
After noticing that the one place adolescents were able to express creativity on Rikers (leading to an increased sense of self) was the culinary arts program, Lexton decided to translate her own life-long passion for food into a proactive business model, where she could directly employ young people and teach transferable skills. “I loved the idea of launching a food truck, being mobile, so we could get out in the community and build some sort of movement around reform and change,” Lexton said, “but also give these young people the ability to connect with others in a social way, one that feels positive and fosters self esteem.”
Lexton’s first course of action (after quitting Rikers) was to apprentice on the Kimchi Taco truck, learning the ins-and-outs of the food truck industry, as well as working in the reentry spaces of other organizations, in order to educate herself on best practices. She began fundraising in spring of 2013, and by April of 2014, was able to fully realize Snowday, refurbishing a truck, and hiring an initial pilot group of eight employees, all recently released from prison.
And they do far more than just work the window—each is involved with the day-to-day aspects of running and managing the business, including designing and conceptualizing the menu, focused on maple syrup-infused dishes (Lexton refers to Snowday as a “healthy, farm-to-truck sugar shack on wheels”). The best-selling item is the maple grilled cheese sandwich, but other offerings currently include pancake poppers, maple bacon brussels sprouts, quinoa salad, and beer-battered maple onion rings with house-pickled veg—all sourced from local, urban farms or upstate NY suppliers.
“We recently promoted one of our employees to kitchen manager, and he’s the sous chef in every sense of the word,” Lexton says. “And all of our guys are in charge of prepping the food, coming up with new ideas, and thinking of ways to expand. The rest of us are just the support system, providing whatever tools necessary so they can change the course of their lives, and further themselves in this field.”
For more info, visit snowdayfoodtruck.com
Snowday can be found at Prospect Park on every third Sunday, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursdays. They’ll also be at the Navy Yard’s BLDG 92 this Friday, co-hosting a celebration of food innovation and entrepreneurship, tickets can be purchased here.