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The Center for Service and Social Action (CSSA) at John Carroll University is launching a student-run food truck business. By day, the truck will serve Cleveland's full-pay lunch market. On select evenings and weekends, the proceeds from the daytime business will be used to provide low or no-cost hot meals to customers who are homeless. JCU students will explore the social, political, and economic dimensions of running a local business while applying course knowledge, gaining real-world experience in entrepreneurship, and increasing their knowledge of the needs, strengths, and realities of diverse populations in the city. 

"With this project, we set out to take experiential education at John Carroll to the next level," says Sister Katherine Feely, director of the CSSA and the innovator behind the food truck initiative. "Our students are applying classroom concepts to bring a student-designed, student-run business to market, and by using their profits to provide the same menu options to customers who are homeless, they're learning how business success can have an even greater impact on our community."

"With this project, we set out to take experiential education at John Carroll to the next level." - Sr. Katherine Feely

The project moved forward last spring after the CSSA used a major donation from a John Carroll alum to purchase the truck. Feely then worked with Doan Winkel, director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University, to integrate the effort into JCU's Boler College of Business.

"We didn't come to the students with a plan," Winkel says. "We wanted this to be their project from start to finish, giving them experience with every step of the process needed to bring a business idea to life."

Spring Social Entrepreneurship students conducted market research, interviewing potential corporate clients to better understand the Cleveland lunch market. They also met with social service organization leaders to identify the homeless population's needs and movements. This fall, the students are working to finalize the menu and pricing, create all point-of-sale marketing, and define the guest experience. 

"I'm having to visualize how to start a business from scratch – the operations, the marketing, and the financials," says Jack Heller, a social entrepreneurship student at JCU. "Everything about being an entrepreneur is jam-packed into this food truck project."

The students will launch their business through a series of events in Spring 2021, then use sales data, marketing analytics and customer feedback to further refine their menu and operations. Winkel and Feely anticipate expanding the initiative over time into a self-sustaining, student-run venture, providing a long-term platform for students to innovate, and opportunities to leverage and strengthen CSSA's relationships with non-profit organizations across Northeast Ohio. 

"We are currently exploring ways that this initiative can help other community partners advance their own efforts to serve the city of Cleveland, while extending the boundaries of the classroom in new and more dynamic ways," says Feely. 

For more information on the food truck project, contact Sr. Katherine Feely, Ed.D. at kfeely@jcu.edu.

 

Media Coverage

The efforts of students, faculty, and staff on the food truck project have not gone unnoticed, as several local news media outlets have picked up their story. Read their responses below:

 

View News 5 Cleveland's feature here.

View the University Business article here.

View the Cleveland.com article here.