Earlier in 2015, The Grilled Cheese Truck donated to the Orange County Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization helping the homeless become self-sufficient. Later, Tustin Buick GMC and the American Food Truck Group president Mark Parkinson connected with Rescue Mission president Jim Palmer and proposed a collaboration: in the Rescue Mission's 4,879 square-foot kitchen, they would train veterans to run a new Grilled Cheese Truck operation, and they would get paid more than minimum wage. Having spearheaded an initiative for veterans a few years back, Palmer loved the idea. Soon after, the veterans began training in the kitchen.
"This is the first time we've done something like this, especially when it comes to the mobile aspect of the retail operation," Palmer says. "Housing, mental health services, and employment services are the most important things veterans need to get back on their feet but, as for employment, there are a lot of homeless veterans who can get jobs but can't hold them. We want to help them become self-sufficient."
Palmer notes that Orange County has the sixth largest concentration of veterans in the country. In addition, a study released this year says many veterans who leave the military and relocate to Orange County are not prepared to transition into jobs. There are several reasons why: some come into the workforce without permanent housing and unmet physical and psychological health problems; often times, they may face legal and financial issues. The study states that there is no single veteran support agency that adequately addresses veterans' comprehensive needs.
"The veterans are very excited about the opportunity, and knowing that this partnership has a focus on permanency for them," Palmer explains. "They're excited to learn new skills."
Casey Chamberlain, a veteran who was stationed in Afghanistan and has been living at the OC Rescue Mission's Village of Hope for three months, says he's been enjoying his training period as a cook at The Grilled Cheese Truck. His favorite part of the job is going to different places with the truck he normally wouldn't go to. So far, the truck has shown up at different churches and the OC Fair.
As for the menu, melts will be served with a selection of cheeses (gruyere, brie, habanero jack, American, sharp cheddar, and sun-dried tomato goat cheese) and meats like barbecue smoked pork. Sweeter melts with Nutella, toasted marshmallows, brown butter apples, and more.
"We anticipate using this as a model of operation to later expand across Rescue Mission branches nationwide," Palmer says.
The Grilled Cheese truck is currently having soft opening runs but has not set an official grand opening date yet.