Good eats: Food truck with a purpose
By Janet Gibson
Photography by Cindy Burnham
You haven’t truly lived until you’ve experienced the rich, gooey goodness of a grilled PB&J.
“It’s good!” I mean, this is REALLY gooooood!” says Thurston Jaskowiak, an Army medic, as he takes his first bite of the sandwich.
Never mind that Thurston had already devoured a big fast-food burger for lunch. When you’re 21 and rail-thin, you can do a second lunch. And especially after learning about the mission of those making and serving the grilled PB&Js ($3.75) and other bargain-priced comfort food.
Miller’s Crew is a new food truck that serves as a training environment and employs young adults with developmental disabilities. Dozens of corporate and individual sponsors have pledged their financial support, as we see from plaques on the colorful truck, and folks are already calling to book the food truck for events.
On this recent Wednesday, Miller’s Crew is making its first official stop at a business, Spring Lake Dental Group. The heat’s stifling – right around 100 under brilliant Carolina blue skies and clouds curiously shaped like teddy bears. John Lowder, who owns a landscaping company that has long serviced the practice, is gifting a lunch for 30 appreciative people on Dr. David Dickerhoff’s team.
Thurston and his buddy, Thomas Raffa, just happen to notice the food truck while on a break from paramedic training at Fayetteville Technical Community College’s
nearby Spring Lake campus. Thurston’s positive reaction to the twist on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich brings smiles to Kim Molnar, the driving force behind
Miller’s Crew, and also grill cook, chief bottle washer, cheerleader and, most
important, “Miller’s mom.”
Miller Molnar, 21, the second of Kim and Karl Molnar’s three sons, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was young. Miller, who has a bright smile, is hard at work on the truck, preparing soft drinks and placing bags of potato chips in orders. His “nana,” grandmother Lisa Horne, and aunt Karen Horne, also are buzzing like bees.
The orders just keep coming in – for rave-worthy, all-beef hot dogs, toasted BLTs, grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit cups and smoothies (and, yes, those grilled PB&Js) – in the food truck that declares “Cooking with the Crew.” Dad Karl, who hauled the food truck with his big white pickup, is drumming up more business with a Facebook Live.
Before the day is out, Miller’s Crew will make a second stop at Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills, where Rose Meurer, a hard-working team member, joins in serving the customers. Rose has Down syndrome and, according to Karl Molnar, “could run the whole truck by herself!”
This day has been in the making for more than four years – and was all a part of a larger plan to provide special needs students with the work and social skills to give them independence and purpose. The mission began with Kim Molnar, a determined mom and longtime licensed speech pathologist for Cumberland County Schools.
In 2016, Kim started developing vocational training labs for Miller’s Crew in area high schools. The spaces are combination coffee shops and cafes where students learn everything from hand-washing and apron-wearing to making coffee and sandwiches – plus how to deliver excellent customer service.
“This was Kim’s brainchild,” Karl says . “After we learned about Miller, she wanted to fix his world, which led her to want to fix the worlds of other special needs kids.”
Karl, the director of operations for their nonprofit, is also the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Terry Sanford High, one of the schools that has a vocational lab for Miller’s Crew.
Others include Pine Forest (the first), Seventy-First, West Bladen, Jack Britt, Gray’s Creek, Westover and Cape Fear. In Union County, “it’s a community lab in downtown Monroe with eight schools feeding into it,” says Kim.
To date, the Molnars say that more than 1,000 students have been job-trained through the labs. “The plan was to take it slow to build their stamina, their skills and resilience,” Kim says.
After much soul-searching, Kim retired from her job of 26 years in June, just before the acceleration of Miller’s Crew.
The next phase was always to have a food truck, and now that has happened.
And now, earlier than expected, even the next phase. Called Community Crew, it means the crew will partner with local businesses to provided trained workers to fulfill various needs. “The first partner is Jersey Mike’s, and we will launch Aug. 18,” says Kim.
The goal is to have the mobile training lab, or food truck, to transition to a brick-and-mortar place of business one day.
“We’re very fortunate,” says Kim, who is modest and understated, “that what we’re doing has been well-received.”
To find out where Miller’s Crew/Cooking with the Crew food truck will be next or to book them, visit millerscrew.com, or call 910-476-4000. Connect with them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter