The brand new Oakland Fried Rooster Truck has a mission: to assist the previous prisoners
When GaQuayla LaGrone was released from Southern California Federal Prison in 2014, she struggled to find a job to support herself and her young son. The only employer willing to hire her was Target, and only part-time during the holiday season. Because of her file, it is difficult to find an apartment and open a bank account, she said.
But now, LaGrone is part of a team of former incarcerated people rebuilding their lives with a new food truck in Oakland. The nonprofit Oakland & the World Enterprises (OAW), which starts businesses for ex-inmates, and the Oakland A’s get paid to get the Soul on a Roll truck up and running, but LaGrone and her employees will eventually own the business together .
“I’m very excited to have this opportunity as a group of people, considering my background, believe in me,” said LaGrone.
The truck debuted at an event in West Oakland today, but the future will have a roving schedule that has yet to be revealed. They hope to have a presence across Oakland, including a course on Lake Merritt.
Elaine Brown, CEO of Oakland & the World, hopes the truck will be a model the organization can emulate to serve more former incarcerated people who are socioeconomically marginalized and at risk of relapse, especially those of color. The nonprofit West Oakland has also created jobs and offered courses in accounting and entrepreneurship through an urban farm that LaGrone has worked on for several years. The organization hopes to open stores on the first floor of an affordable residential complex it is building in West Oakland.
GaQuayla LaGrone tends a piece of tomato at West Oakland Farms in 2015. She is now part of a team of former incarcerated people opening an Oakland Food Truck.
Michael Kurz / Special To The Chronicle
Brown said the food truck that provides LaGrone and their employees with a path towards self-responsibility will hopefully bring them more long-term stability than one-off support programs for ex-inmates.
“This is an experiment. It’s not a panacea, ”Brown said of the truck. “But our goal would be to create opportunities, even if there are all the barriers in the world.”
Sarah Germany, Keshia Evans and Howard Harrison, the latter two who were previously incarcerated, also work at Soul on a Roll. The roving truck will serve a small menu to begin with – fried chicken and vegan chicken sandwiches and wraps, lemonade, and a side salad – but they hope to expand the menu. You will use fresh produce from OAW’s farm.
LaGrone said she has always loved food and cooking; She grew up in a large family where meals were shared. She also discovered her passion for growing vegetables while working on the Oakland farm.
For Brown, a former Black Panther Party leader in the mid-1970s, food has always been a vehicle for community and activism. She recalled when the Blank Panthers ran free food programs and laid out urban gardens in West Oakland decades ago.
“Cooking and eating are a big part of the black community,” she said. “For me, this is also a continuation of the understanding of what food means to black people, to poor people.”
Elena Kadvany is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany