If you’re fortunate enough to be in the Indianapolis area where the Cheese and Thank You food truck is parked, you’ll be treated to the aromas of mac and cheese and mouth-watering toppings. Chances are you’ll be greeted with a smile by one of the workers while upbeat music wafts out from the truck windows.
But, this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill food truck. It’s the only food truck in the Midwest where the food is prepared, served and marketed by people with intellectual disabilities. “Working here changed my life because I’ve had an opportunity to show what I’m capable of,” says 28-year-old Richie Olopade, the food truck’s assistant to the manager. “I get to prove that I can cook food like people without disabilities.”
Richie’s day starts hours before serving customers, with loading the generator, picking up groceries, and preparing toppings and the cheeses they’ll need for the day’s service. “I like greeting customers because I’ve been in the food business since I was 19. It’s good to greet customers because back then I started as a dishwasher and I was always in the back,” he says.
Food Truck Beginnings
This food truck concept is the brainchild of Allison Wharry and Kathy D. Ballard, PhD, both of New Hope of Indiana, an organization that serves people with developmental disabilities in Central Indiana. “The transition from high school to the adult service world for people with disabilities is a very challenging time for individuals and their families,” Ballard says.
Ballard worked with Wharry to start the food truck in 2019 and it took off from there. “Individuals learn the entire process – shopping, cooking, running a cash register, serving, customer service. It’s hard work and it prepares them for an entry level job in food service,” Ballard says.
Tricia Wernimont is the food truck specialist and manages the employees. “I’ll take anyone to work on the food truck because I want everyone to have that opportunity. Each Individual is unique and I’ll train them,” she says.
Cheese and Thank You food truck serves a straightforward and delicious menu highlighting, as its name suggests, mac and cheese. Visitors can choose to add toppings to their selection. “Try our white cheddar mac and cheese because it’s probably some of the best you’ll ever taste,” Richie says.
Cheese and Thank You operates during the summer months through October. Although they don’t have set locations every week, they keep busy through individual bookings. To keep up with the food truck schedule, you can find their calendar online at cheeseandthankyou.org. You can also book the food truck online or by calling (317) 744-5889.
“I drive an hour each way to get to work and honestly most days it doesn’t feel like a job,” says Wernimont. “It’s really fun. I love the individuals and my staff. It’s a fabulous place to work and it’s wonderful to see all they’re doing here.”
To find out more about the services of New Hope of Indiana, visit newhopeofindiana.org.