Hope Green, the gregarious “Grilled Cheese Lady” and owner of Emojis, hasn’t always had an easy go of it. In fact, when she opened her food truck in 2012, Green was homeless, a victim of 2008's housing bubble collapse. Now, almost seven years later, she is using the business that helped turn her fortunes to help the community.
Green employs homeless teens and those aging out of the foster care system at both her food truck, currently parked at Third Street and Congress Avenue, and her for-hire catering grilled cheese bar. She’s even starting her own foundation, The Ground Up Foundation, to offer further resources.
“In our current climate, I see so many people taking things out of the community and not putting things back,” she explains of her business model.
The entrepreneur was first inspired to employ homeless Austinites while delivering sandwiches near Seventh Street one afternoon made with “bonus breads,” a term borrowed from her grandfather to describe a loaf’s heel.
“I met this woman, and she started telling me her story,” Green recalls. “I thought if she didn't have anything to do, then she should come help me at my food truck.” From there, word started to spread, and more teens came to work during Emojis' lunchtime rush.
In addition to offering them a chance to explore the food truck industry as a potential career, Green also works with caseworkers to deal with any issues that came up.
“When you’re working with homeless teens, it’s hard. Once you go through that trauma as a kid, you bring that baggage with you. We head off that trauma and teach some soft skills to kids not growing up with their parent and teach them what they need to do when they come to work," Green says.
As the community learned of Green's work with the homeless, she started receiving donations. Once, she even received a $125 tip earmarked for new jeans for the kids.
“I had one young lady [who] would come [into work], and the only clothes she had were spandex pants you could literally see through,” she says.
As the Ground Up Foundation continues to grow, Green is looking for even more ways to give back. Furthering her work with homeless teens, she is developing a program for a local juvenile detention center to prepare teens for life after release.
To help launch that program, Green has drafted friends for fundraiser at Fair Market on National Grilled Cheese Day, April 12. The event will feature karaoke, a cheese tug-of-war, live music, and all the sandwiches guests can eat.
Now in its third year, the celebration is a way of connecting to community, which is important for this entrepreneur who takes the term “comfort food” to heart.