With flavors like nectar, piña colada and key lime pie, the Chill Mobile offers light, fluffy snowballs of shaved ice. A cartoon yeti greets the customers from the front of the blue trailer while teenagers prepare the cold treats for customers.
The Chill Mobile is not only Roseburg’s newest food truck, but a business started and run by Casa de Belen, a transitional housing facility for youth who are homeless.
Casa de Belen residents Seth Showalter, 17, and Mathew Downing, 19, are planning to work in the Chill Mobile this summer.
“This is a snow cone business to help support Casa de Belen and the homeless people in Casa,” Showalter said. He added it will also be valuable job experience and give him a reference for his resume.
“It also in a way serves another purpose, which is breaking that predetermined image of a homeless person,” Downing said. “We’re going out in public and showing we’re more than that.”
When the teens are hired to work in the truck, they participate in an employment and training module.
As the resident lead for the business, Downing helps train other employees in this social enterprise program, covering how to perform in an interview, search for and maintain a job, dress for work and act with proper etiquette.
He said many of the fellow employees of the Chill Mobile have minimal prior work experience.
Penny McCue, executive director of Casa de Belen, grew up in New Orleans, where snowball stands are often found along street corners. Instead of hard, chunky, crushed ice that’s common in snow cones in the northwest, the snowballs of New Orleans and the Chill Mobile are light with the consistency of powdery snow.
“It’s not like any other kind of snow cone you get anywhere else in the world,” McCue said. “It’s fluffy ice-like powder, and the flavors are not just cherry, lime and grape or whatever, they’re like wedding cake and Georgia peach.”
McCue had been looking for an opportunity for Casa de Belen to create a social enterprise for years as a source of revenue, but more importantly as an opportunity for the residents to get work experience.
“It’s hard for homeless teens and adults to be competitive in the job market,” McCue said, adding there’s a stigma surrounding people who are homeless that adds to the challenge of finding work.
Along with the experience and money they earn from operating the Chill Mobile, the youth earn skills of creating and running a business.
McCue had pitched the idea for the shaved ice stand to a foundation a couple years ago, but was denied a grant. This time, she applied for a Housing Opportunities grant from the Portland-based Meyer Memorial Trust. This grant is meant to help people achieve housing stability, which corresponds with Casa de Belen’s own mission.
The Meyer Memorial Trust awarded Casa de Belen with the $104,801 grant in November.
“We were honored to get it, it was an intensive grant process,” McCue said.
To get ideas and advice for running the business, McCue and the Casa de Belen team then visited social enterprise programs in Portland, including Central City Concern with businesses offering coffee, furniture, and cleaning and staffing services. They also visited New Avenues for Youth, which operates two Ben & Jerry’s franchises, an online apparel business and a screen printing company.
Since then, Jessica Mathison, owner of Idleyld Lodge and Idleyld Snack Shack, joined the Chill Mobile as the social enterprises coordinator to train the employees and help them start their business. They fixed up the truck and got it ready by May 9.
Mathison developed the curriculum for the social enterprise class. The students learned how to fill out applications, write resumes, dress appropriately for work and prepare for interviews. Jeremy Munoz, the manager of the Dutch Bros on Northeast Stephens Street in Roseburg, came to talk to the class about customer service.
The students also have their food handlers licenses and are trained in business math.
“There’s one kid in particular who said, ‘I don’t want to do customer service,” Mathison said. “But after going through the process and watching other kids enjoy it, now that kid is asking questions and wants to participate and do customer service.”
Nina Atkisson, a 19-year-old resident and Chill Mobile employee, came up with the business name and Showalter created a slogan, “cool treats for cool peeps.” This slogan later evolved to “Cool treat. Warm Heart. Casa de Belen kids doing their part.” Based on McCue’s design for the truck, JV Media Design of Roseburg volunteered to create the logo and artwork for a reduced price.
McCue also hired Charlotte Eggleston and Chrissy Balfour, who both have extensive experience running concessions in Roseburg.
“It’s really exciting we get to have homeless kids start a new business,” McCue said. “We’ve had to do everything, go through the city and get permits, and go to the health department to meet with the inspector. It’s been a great learning process for everyone involved.”
Businesses who hire employees from Casa de Belen, McCue said, can be confident they’re getting workers who have been trained in marketing, teamwork and customer service. Residents must pass drug tests to live at Casa de Belen, so employers can be assured they have clean urinalyses.
The Chill Mobile staff plan to sell the shaved ice throughout the county at events this summer, including a radio controlled airplane event at the Roseburg airport, Music on the Half Shell, Music in the Park, Riverbend Live!, the Great Umpqua Food Truck Competition and private celebrations like weddings and barbecues.
They are also making attempts to work with the Douglas County Fairgrounds in hopes of having the Chill Mobile at the county fair in August.