Local Restaurant, Food Truck Business Provides Second Chances

By Kaylee Harter Dayton Daily News, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heather Scott and Jamiyl Al-Haniyf created "Choice Mobile Vending" in 2018. At the heart of what they do is helping new food truck owners and other entrepreneurs get their start with a mission of peace, acceptance and tolerance.

Dayton

"Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

It's the "check yes or no" question found on nearly every job application that causes some employers to throw out an application then and there.

But at Choice Mobile Vending, that little checkbox doesn't define a person.

In fact, no box does.

Choice Mobile Vending, created by Heather Scott and Jamiyl Al-Haniyf in 2018, is a small business based in Montgomery County that seeks to help new food truck owners and other entrepreneurs get their start with a mission of peace, acceptance and tolerance.

"We have to invest in people and we have to invest in all people, not just the ones who we can relate with," Scott said.

This season, they opened the Rolling Oasis Hop Off restaurant in Troy, Ohio and are debuting a new food truck in Montgomery County called The Black Pearl -- a name inspired by "Pirates of the Carribean" that Al-Haniyf said represents redemption.

The restaurants serve ice cream and street food such as hand-pressed burgers and quesadillas with ingredients sourced from other local businesses such as Johnson's Real Ice Cream in Bexley.

But the business's story begins in 2015 when Al-Haniyf and his son started the Rolling Oasis Treats Truck, which first served hand-dipped ice cream and milkshakes and later added a hot food menu.

In 2016, Al-Haniyf met Scott while doing consulting work for a freight brokerage and they started to discuss going into business together.

"We started to realize that we both had some passion and some past trauma related to working with people who have difficult pasts, whether it's an addiction, whether it's in difficult parents on the whole behavior side of it," Scott said. "So when I realized that his real passion was in helping broken people, I was like, 'Okay, so let's talk a little bit more about what this means.'"

Scott joined the business and in 2016 and '17, they partnered with Daybreak, a Dayton nonprofit that works to prevent youth homelessness.

In 2018 and 2019, they partnered with the MonDay Community Correctional Institute, a residential treatment program for felony offenders.

"What we were able to provide was a place for them to be like, 'Whoa, I'm a convicted felon, I'm an offender, but I can interact with people and I can do a job and I can be accepted," Al-Haniyf said.

"They didn't have to hide who they really were or what their past was," Scott added. "They could actually embrace it and be like, 'Yeah, that's me,' because there was transparency. We knew it going into it. We interviewed them inside of the cell doors."

In the partnership with the MonDay institute, which is currently on hold due to COVID-19, Al-Haniyf and Scott made it their mission to provide a ServSafe certification -- a food safety training required at many restaurants -- even to those who are not hired.

Scott, whose children have family members who struggle with addiction, and Al-Haniyf, who was previously incarcerated, said the past -- whether it involves drug addiction, a criminal record or something else -- does not need to define someone, so long as they have a willingness to change.

Nasrrudiyn Abdul Hakiym, formerly Marcellus Dillard, struggled with addiction from the time he was 15 years old and was in and out of jail for years. Then, he found his faith in Islam and committed to "getting right." He had met Al-Haniyf during his time in prison and the two reconnected years later, sharing a passion for their faith. Hakiym joined the Rolling Oasis team and now serves as the compliance officer at Choice Mobile Vending.

"For me, to be around other human beings today, I know what they're going through. I know the stress, I know the pain and all the things they're going through," he said.

He said they lead by example and strive to provide support to community members and employees in whatever way they can -- sometimes providing a car to use or a place to stay.

"The main thing was, hey, we got to help people just like us. We got to communicate with people that speak our language," Hakiym said.

But they have to see and believe that willingness to change in anyone they hire. The hiring team approaches every individual with careful discernment, judging, but not condemning them, Al-Haniyf said.

Through providing this transitional work and teaching the skills that come with working in the business, Al-Haniyf said the business is able to provide a stepping stone to community members who might often be overlooked for a job.

"Now, we realize our work is not just making hamburgers and scooping ice cream," he said. "Our job is to provide a place where people can actually benefit from being coming and spending their time, which is the only real commodity that we all share equally."

Doing that work comes with its challenges. For Al-Haniyf, the biggest challenge is often knowing when to let someone go if they are not invested in their own road to success.

"Because we hope and we see the potential, we get caught up on the potential and then in the abilities that they have, and sometimes we see it so clearly," he said. "We see it for them and then it's to arrive at that place for myself, like, wait a minute. I'm too attached to the idea of this person's success because I'm more attached to it than they are."

But whether someone is with the Rolling Oasis and Choice Mobile Vending for a day or for the rest of their life, Al-Haniyf and Scott said they are glad to be a part of the journey.

This year presented its own set of challenges.

Like most other businesses, the coronavirus took a serious toll on the business' plans. Of the 68 events the food trucks were scheduled for, 62 were canceled, Scott said, and the price of meat skyrocketed.

On top of that, they were preparing for the opening of the Rolling Oasis Hop Off, the drive-thru and walk-up restaurant.

Then, a more personal tragedy struck.

March 20, chef Joel Farquhar -- a founding member of Choice Mobile who owned the Mega-bites food truck which opened in 2017 -- passed away suddenly.

Farquhar was a retired U.S. Navy veteran, who graduated from Ohio State with a degree in history and attended Sinclair College's culinary school. He had created the entire food menu for the Rolling Oasis and the Hop Off. "He spent his energy and he developed this menu, and I was there when he developed it," Al-Haniyf said.

Farquhar was an important and beloved part of the Choice Mobile Vending family and his death shook the business, Al-Haniyf and Scott said.

"When we lost him drastically two weeks before opening it really humbled us, because we went, 'Oh, no. Wow, we have to pivot.' And there was a moment where it was like, you know, there was almost like this give-up moment," Scott said.

But they didn't give up and The Rolling Oasis Hop Off opened April 3. Its name was inspired by a restaurant Farquhar's grandparents owned on West Third Street in the '50s called the Hop Off Drive-in.

"We actually believe that we get to carry on his legacy just by providing his menu as part of the nourishment that we provide for this world, so, you know, it's a good thing," Scott said.

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