CLOSE
Original image
Scott Gordon Bleicher

How Jordyn Lexton is Making Grilled Cheese Give Back

Original image
Scott Gordon Bleicher

By Jordyn Lexton, as told to Michelle Goodman

Jordyn Lexton parlayed her culinary passion and a desire to help troubled youth into Snowday Food Truck, a business with a mission as impressive as the inventive grilled cheeses it serves up. In 2015, Snowday won the Vendy Cup for best New York City food truck. We asked the 29-year-old native New Yorker how she made the leap from teaching incarcerated teenagers English to running a hip start-up that specializes in second chances.

I was a high school English teacher on Rikers Island for three years. New York treats 16-year-olds in the criminal justice system like they’re adults, regardless of the offense. They’re offered education until the age of 21, so I worked with probably 1300 young people. Most of them haven’t been sentenced yet—they’re just being detained because they can’t afford bail. I saw how destructive the system is to young people, and I was interested in developing an employment strategy for [those] coming home.

Many of my happiest moments have centered around food. It’s a way to connect. There was a culinary arts class on Rikers where a lot of my students were excelling, so I decided a mobile food source where we could be out in the community would be a great way to raise awareness about injustice inside the system.

I hadn’t worked in the food industry or in “re-entry”—when a prisoner returns to society. So in 2012, I left my teaching job and pursued both. I worked on the Kimchi Taco Truck in New York City for seven months, then in re-entry programs. In 2013, I got some great people to rally around me, and we raised money. In the spring of 2014, we launched Snowday.

I was inspired by a foundation in Peru called Niños that I’d visited in 2011. It provides two meals to more than 600 children in Cusco every single day, and generates revenue through a for-profit hotel and hostel it operates. Drive Change, the nonprofit I started that owns Snowday, runs a 12-month fellowship for young people coming home from jail. They work in our kitchen and on our truck, and the revenue from the truck cycles back into the organization to subsidize our costs.

About 20 people per year work on our one truck. We pay our workers $11 an hour and teach them transferable skills through classes like marketing, money management, hospitality, and culinary arts. We also incorporate disciplines like communication skills and community building. We’ve had a lot of people move on to other full-time opportunities, but we’re not a job placement organization. Rather, a big part of the work we do is empowering the youth to take the initiative to secure their next position. We help build their skill sets, but for somebody to excel in future environments they need that foundation within themselves.

Next, we’re going to build a garage and commissary for other food trucks. The trucks’ owners will pay rent and purchase additional goods and services they need—like ice and propane, getting their truck cleaned, renting the kitchen space. But they will be required to hire people out of Drive Change. We’ll be able to work with more people hired by more food trucks.

The goal for us is to help young people coming home get into a position where, rather than all the stop signs and dead ends they generally face, they see futures with new opportunities.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Food
The Surprising Reason Why Wendy's Serves Fast Food's Only Baked Potato
Original image
iStock

For an industry that prides itself on convenience and indulgence, a fiber-rich pseudo-vegetable that’s hard to eat on the go and isn’t deep-fried seems like a curious addition to a fast food menu. Yet Wendy’s has been selling baked potatoes for nearly three decades—11-and-a-half ounces of pure, unpeeled spud, drowned in your choice of toppings.

According to Thrillist writer Wil Fulton, who spoke with Wendy’s vice president of culinary innovation Lori Estrada, the chain first got turned on to the foil-wrapped food in the 1980s, when nutrition experts were (erroneously) touting low-fat diets for weight loss. Eager to embrace the trend, Wendy's viewed a plain potato as a popular alternative to sliced, oil-slicked fries.

The hysteria over fat may have disappeared, but the collective consumer appetite for the potato did not. Estrada says she believes many of them consider the 270-to-480 calorie (depending on toppings) carb dump a meal unto itself, and that some enjoy piling on cheese, bacon, and other burger trimmings for a tasty and inexpensive dinner.

So why don’t you see baked potatoes at other franchises? Estrada speculates that the logistical issues are a turnoff. The potatoes are cooked from a raw state in convection ovens, which could necessitate new equipment and ample prep time. With fries still the king of sides, franchisees may not think it’s worth the hassle.

Wendy’s is undoubtedly happy to have the market to themselves: The chain sells 1 million tubers a week.

[h/t Thrillist]

Original image
LaCroix
arrow
Food
The Secret Ingredient That Makes LaCroix Water So Irresistible
Original image
LaCroix

The distinctive Technicolor cans of LaCroix sparkling water are an increasingly popular sight in stores and on kitchen tables around the country. (If you're old enough to remember the Snapple phenomenon of the 1990s, this is like that—just bubbly.) But as The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, few of the beverage's loyal fans have any idea what it is they're drinking.

LaCroix comes in a variety of flavors, from tangerine to coconut. The can label, however, is cryptic, listing "natural flavors" as part of the ingredients. Their website discloses only that "natural essence oils" are involved, which sounds like LaCroix should be applied to your hair and then rinsed off.

A look at the nutritional information for LaCroix water
LaCroix

As it turns out, that's not too far off. According to The Wall Street Journal, these "essences" are naturally produced chemicals that are manufactured by heating up fruit or vegetable remnants until they make a vapor, then condensing them into a clear concentrate. They're used in a variety of consumer products, from shampoos to ice pops.

LaCroix was unwilling to confirm the Journal's claim, protecting their manufacturing process in a manner similar to Coca-Cola's famously secretive treatment of their recipe. They do state that no sugars are added, but that may not be enough to protect your teeth: Carbonated water and citric acids can combine to create a lower pH, which has a detrimental effect on tooth enamel. Like most everything that tastes good, these flavored waters are best enjoyed in moderation.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios