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Giving food while giving back: Boston’s food truck owners are social entrepreneurs, too

Posted by Alex Pearlman  March 3, 2012 09:30 AM

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clover food truck.jpgBy Olivia DiNucci

It was only a matter of time before Boston, “The Walking City,” would see food trucks gain popularity. Since last summer, City Hall has added 15 permanent locations for trucks to serve customers, revised their application process to make it easier for entrepreneurs to open their doors (or, in this case, windows), and sponsored food truck-related contests. And in the “if you build it, they will come” spirit, a plethora of trucks are now winding their way around the area to serve the hungry masses.

While many of Boston’s food trucks are innovative in the way they do business and the food they serve, some vendors are aiming for a higher quality of product and a higher standard of operation through social entrepreneurship, setting themselves apart from their competitors with their practices.

Clover lives by the motto “everything will be different tomorrow,” and their multiple trucks have put a unique spin on vegetarian and vegan foods with their ever-changing menus, including popular dishes like egg and eggplant pitas, chickpea fritters, and whoopie pies. Nearly 100 percent of their ingredients are local -- hence the constant change -- and they use as many organic ingredients as possible. And because the Clover crew values transparency, they publicize nutritional information on their website.

“By eating 10-15 meals at Clover in one week, [the effect of] your carbon footprint [on] the environment is the same as choosing a Prius over an SUV,” said Ayr Muir, Clover’s CEO. While he doesn’t expect everyone to eat every meal at Clover, eating a meatless meal is one of the most beneficial daily things someone can do to help the environment, he said.

Clover’s menu itself is their largest contribution to environment, but they are also particular about their behind-the-scenes procedures: The trucks recycle their cooking oil, compost all trash, use minimal water, and avoid the environmental disaster of receipts with an iPhone “cash register.” In a socially friendly move, the company has hired many of their 140 employees from correctional facility transition programs or off recommendations from community organizations that help people turn their lives around, Muir said.

clover food truck food.jpgBut Clover wasn’t the first food truck to take on social entrepreneurship.
Momogoose, a Vietnamese truck that opened in Kendall Square in 1989, prides itself on serving both their paying customers and those in need. The company donates profits to local and global charities, including the United Nation’s World Food Programme, via their “Meal for Meal” Initiative, and Tooter.org, a startup that aims to stimulate and support Boston-area college and high school students’ interests in math and science through tutoring, educational networking, and mentoring.

“In the poorest parts of the world, a school meal program can double primary school enrollment in one year,” Momogoose co-founder Tiffany Pham said of “Meal for Meal” in an interview with the Kendall Square Association. “Among the key beneficiaries are girls, who otherwise may never be given the opportunity to learn.”

While Momogoose has seen a 600 percent sales increase since launching “Meal for Meal” in 2010, the truck would not be as successful without their good food -- food with a “geeky approach,” according to their website. Their menu features healthy Southeast Asian cuisine, including vegan, vegetarian, and non-vegetarian options. With MIT and Howard Hughes Medical Institute alums as founders, Momogoose writes on their website that their secret is “scientifically-driven cooking [that] maximizes taste while minimizing fats and calories.”

Momogoose does not intend for their participation in these initiatives to be unique. They’re willing to help local entrepreneurs do something similar with their own food trucks, according to their profile on Roaming Hunger, and “hope to establish the country’s first locally owned social franchise of food trucks, each with a unique charity mission.”

Which Boston food truck is your favorite?

Photos by rda (top) and Chef Cooke (food from Clover, bottom) (Flickr)

About Olivia -- I'm a political communications and entrepreneurship studies major at Emerson College, where I also play for the women's basketball team. Emerging myself in new experiences and cultures is something I want my life to consist of. My ideal day in Boston includes biking around town scoping out the best deals and going to the coolest events. Food, traveling, and interacting with people excite me! Twitter: @OliviaDiNucci

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