What started as a seasonal food cart has blossomed into a successful catering venture that helps victims of human trafficking get their lives back together.
Freedom a la Cart is coming off of its most fruitful year yet, earning $255,768 in gross receipts through Dec. 14. That’s a nearly 43 percent increase over last year.
Paula Haines, executive director of Freedom a la Cart, said that while the organization has social services as its goal, the food is not a second thought. She calls it superior in quality and competitively priced.
“It’s exceptional,” Haines said. “Our goal is to keep (customers) coming back.”
Boxed lunches come in “signature” or “traditional” versions, with sandwiches or wraps as the centerpiece. (Salads also are offered.) They’re rounded out with sides, a salty snack and a sweet treat. Catering services cover everything from breakfast foods and dinner menus to appetizers and “displays,” including charcuterie plates.
Some of the fare is considerably chef-driven, such as the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese, smoked salmon cucumber shooters, braised-pork sandwiches and scratch-made hummus.
Virtually everything is homemade, including relishes, spreads and dressings. Haines said it’s nothing fancy, but “we try to add something a little unexpected to make it special.”
The group operates out of the Van Buren Center, 595 Van Buren Drive, on the West Side. The facility is owned by the Community Shelter Board and managed by the YMCA.
The program began as Doma International, to provide supportive services to providers of human trafficking. Officials added a social enterprise, a food cart, that was rolled out every summer between 2011-14.
The initiative was rebranded, which came with a name change, but the food-related workforce-development component remained.
“The training goes beyond food, although that’s the main ingredient,” Haines said. “It’s more about workforce training and getting them useful skills.”
Chef Jessica Bryant oversees the culinary aspect of the program. Bryant, who trained at the Columbus Culinary Institute at the Bradford School, formerly worked at Pistacia Vera in German Village.
Now a certified health coach, Bryant wanted to move beyond the daily grind to something more personal.
“This isn’t just being a chef; you’re a mentor to the ladies,” she said. “I need to do something that that gives me purpose. It’s beyond perfect. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.”
To read the full story by Gary Seman Jr. at the Columbus Dispatch: Click Here