During a recent stop at 18th and Vine, every passerby heard a question as they passed the trailer parked on the street:
“Would you like to step onto our grocery store?”
Rollin’ Grocer houses a full-service grocery store that stops in neighborhoods where fresh groceries are not easily available.
Jessica Royer, Rollin’ Grocer’s founder and co-owner, said the easiest way to explain what the business does is to have people step inside and check it out for themselves. Most are surprised that it has many necessities, not just snacks or fresh produce.
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For Royer and her team the idea was simple: One grocery store on wheels, stocked with everything needed to cook full meals, making stops in neighborhoods where it’s requested.
Royer said the idea came in 2014 after a conversation with a friend when Royer noticed the difference between grocery options in wealthy suburban areas and poorer urban areas. She remembers brainstorming with her daughter, who was 9 at the time. Here’s how she was able to explain the idea to her daughter:
“What if there was a grocery store that was like an ice cream truck?”
At the time, Royer said she didn’t know what a food desert was.
A food desert is an area with few grocery stores, with low income residents and limited access to reliable transportation.
Denesha Snell, public information officer for the Kansas City Health Department, said most of the children who go to bed hungry at night or run out of food at the end of the month live in food deserts.
She said the health department loves what Rollin’ Grocer is doing, and it has worked with the business on several occasions to help spread the word.
Rollin’ Grocer is in its third month, and while the group eventually hopes to turn a profit, for now the main measure of success is every new stop on the calendar and every customer it can persuade to step onto the store.
Royer and her other co-owners decided the store wouldn’t operate until food stamp payments were an option.
Natasha El-Scari, one of four co-owners, said they spent a lot of time planning their approach and wanted to be a business that grew out of a community need using members of that community. She said they hire people from all backgrounds but put an emphasis on those who are connected to the areas that Rollin’ Grocer serves.
“We partnered with communities, and we partnered with neighborhoods, so we always started where people actually wanted us to be there,” El-Scari said.
They have found several other businesses with similar ideas throughout the country.
Royer said entrepreneurs in St. Louis, Minneapolis and Tulsa have created similar trucks, but the group didn’t know the others existed when they were forming plans.
Royer said they shopped around for the truck, which was built custom for Rollin’ Grocer. She said it cost about $40,000 for the bones of the trailer, excluding the truck that pulls it and the coolers and shelves inside it.
One of the main goals they set for the store was for everyone who shops there to be able to cook their Sunday dinner solely from products purchased in the store.
Royer said there are many nonprofits and other community initiatives that provide fresh produce for inner city neighborhoods, but there aren’t a lot of full-service options in the area.
The store offers a wide variety of foods, not just healthful foods. Royer said their aim isn’t to tell people how to live or eat but to give them a chance to buy the food they want.
Miranda Davis: 816-234-4166, @mirandardavis