Ruthie's founder Ashlee Hunt Kleinert gives us the scoop on her partnership with Café Momentum—and shares some exciting news for grilled cheese fans.
While the Ruthie’s food truck is a regular at Klyde Warren Park, the mobile restaurant also offers catering for private events.
When Ashlee Hunt Kleinert first decided to launch a food truck company, the concept started out as a fun side project—something to complement her already-established event planning business. “Food trucks were just hitting the Dallas scene, and Ruthie’s Rolling Cafe offered such a unique way to engage with customers,” says Kleinert, “so I ultimately closed the events side and went 100% in on the food truck in 2011.” Fast-forward eight years, and Kleinert would find herself embarking on yet another venture: a partnership between Ruthie’s and Café Momentum, the restaurant-nonprofit hybrid that employs at-risk youth who’ve been released from juvenile facilities. “Café Momentum is not a normal restaurant, and Ruthie’s is not a normal food truck,” she says of the merger. “We like to say that we both serve more than food; we serve the community.”
Ashlee Hunt Kleinert launched her food truck business in 2011, naming it in honor of her grandmother Ruth.
After admiring the work of Café Momentum’s founder, Chad Houser, for years, Kleinert knew she had to get involved somehow. “I asked Chad what he needed and if there was any way Ruthie’s could help,” she explains. “He told me there was a need for partnerships with other local businesses that could hire interns once they’ve finished the 12-month fellowship at Café Momentum.” Now dubbed Ruthie’s Fueled by Café Momentum, Kleinert’s company provides paid externships for kids who’ve completed Houser’s fellowship. “They learn to work on our food trucks and deal with customers face to face. Like Chad’s program, we also provide social services and curriculum to help lead them to independence.”
Popular grilled cheese options at Ruthie’s include the Plain Jane, the Turkey Trot and The Boss, which is made with slow-cooked brisket.
Following a successful first year, the joint business was faced with unforeseen challenges brought on by the pandemic. And yet, Kleinert and Houser pressed on, determined to turn a negative into a positive. “When Café Momentum had to temporarily close, they graciously included Ruthie’s employees in their Momentum Eats initiative, which consisted of assembling and delivering meal boxes to [thousands of] food-insecure families,” she says. Other recent programming includes the Grilled Cheese for a Good Cause campaign, which feeds local frontline workers through donations via the Ruthie’s website. The campaign was a natural extension of Ruthie’s Snacks of Kindness, a program Kleinert has grown over the last few years that highlights different nonprofits through Ruthie’s truck signage and social channels, and delivers food to and collects donations for said organizations. When asked about future plans, Kleinert can hardly contain her excitement. “I’m thrilled to announce we will be opening a Ruthie’s Fueled by Café Momentum restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 2021,” she shares. “It will be walking distance to St. Philip’s School & Community Center, which has been one of our most special customers over the years. We look forward to including our Café Momentum externs and the St. Philip’s community in every aspect of this project.” In addition to providing a bigger space to share more of Ruthie’s famous grilled cheese sandwiches, Kleinert hopes the brick-and-mortar—and her overall partnership with Houser—will inspire others to think of ways they can partner with a nonprofit that touches their hearts.
Photography by: from top, photos: courtesy of Ruthie's; by Micah Rabalais; by Jean Pierre Pinochet/istock