Alum Puts Farmers Market on Wheels
What has wheels, is loaded with fruits and vegetables, and funds social services for San Antonians looking to improve their lives?
The answer: Truckin’ Tomato, a mobile farmers market packed in a 26-foot trailer set for its debut in April. It will feature high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, bakery items, snacks and juices from local farms and food producers in the San Antonio-Austin area, and will make it easier for people who might not be able to squeeze in a visit each week to their local farmers market, said Shaun Lee, the company’s chief executive officer and founder.
The trailer will make regular appearances at The Point Park and Eats, off Boerne Stage Road, and at businesses such as Rackspace, the Weston Centre and Vision Works. Lee hopes to eventually be at special events such as marathons.
Lee and a group of fellow students in the UTSA Executive M.B.A. program created the Truckin’ Tomato business plan as their capstone project. He was the only student from the group to nurture the plan into an actual business.
“To be honest, I had no inclination to start a business when I went into it,” he said. But the experience “awakened an entrepreneurial spirit in me.”
Lee, who has worked with Haven for Hope for six years and has served as its executive vice president since 2012, had been encouraged by mentors to round out his expertise with a master’s degree. He decided to enroll at UTSA, earning his E.M.B.A. in 2013.
As someone who has dedicated his career to working with the homeless to improve their lives through education and job opportunities, Lee wants the new venture to be an extension of that philosophy.
“I also have a real heart for people who need a second chance as far as employment goes,” he said. “Meaningful work creates identity for people. If they are able to go back to work, it really restores their hope and dignity.”
The business is a social enterprise, Lee said. In addition to offering training and jobs for Haven for Hope clients, it will send more than half of the profits from the first truck to the Christian Hope Resource Center, a faith-based nonprofit that uses a casemanagement model to work with people experiencing food insecurity. The organization also offers a food pantry, among other services.
“We’re going to drive revenue to them so they can feed hungry families on the West Side,” Lee said.
Megan Legacy, executive director of CHRC, said the support from Truckin’ Tomato will help her organization diversify its funding and raise the 30-year-old agency’s profile.
“He has a big heart, and I think he strategically wants to move the needle in the community,” she said of Lee.
Lee said the majority of the $90,000 startup costs for Truckin’ Tomato were covered by fundraising efforts, including a $50,000 grant from the 80/20 Foundation and an online crowdsourcing campaign.
The message of the business will be included on the trailer’s signage and in pamphlets given to customers at checkout. Lee said customers won’t be moved to patronize the mobile market simply to support a charity, but because they will be getting high-quality products.
The trailer’s daily location will be updated online and via social media. Lee sees more trailers in the company’s future, perhaps bolstered by an online pre-ordering system.
“We’re kind of viewing this as a pilot,” he said. “We think that San Antonio could easily support at least three or four trailers.”
Web Extra: To view a video about Shaun Lee’s enterprise, go to www.truckintomato.com