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Soul On a Roll food truck serves second chance for new business partners

on September 17, 2021

With a baby boy on her hip, GaQuayla Lagrone arrived in Oakland in 2014 looking for a fresh start. She had served a year and a half in federal prison in San Diego for a nonviolent crime. 

“I came up here not knowing my left from my right,” she said.  

Today, Lagrone, 37, is one of four people with similar stories who were chosen as future co-owners of the food truck business Soul On A Roll, which opened Friday with a celebration at the corner of Seventh and Campbell streets in West Oakland.

The project is a joint venture by Elaine Brown, CEO of the nonprofit Oakland & the World Enterprise, and Dave Kavel, president of the Oakland A’s. They financed the truck and startup costs. The workers will form their own company as soon as the business begins to make money.

Soul on a Roll
Elaine Brown, CEO of the nonprofit Oakland & the World Enterprise (Ruth Dusseault)

“I am excited and nervous,” said Lagrone, standing in front of a shiny black food truck with her picture on it, “I have to take accountability, because I’m the operations manager of this business.”

Lagrones’ new business partners are Keshia Evans and Howard Harrison, both formerly incarcerated, and chef-teacher Sarah Germany.

Brown, who created the program, is an iconic figure in West Oakland. She is the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party, which she did from 1974 to 1977. Her mission now is to launch for-profit businesses that help people who were once marginalized build livelihoods.

On Friday, as the band Caravan of Allstars played “What’s Going On,” the food truck served fried chicken sandwiches and vegan wraps to an enthusiastic crowd of neighbors, stakeholders, and politicians. 

Harrison, one of partners, grew up in East Oakland and came to the business through West Oakland Farms, a cooperative organic garden. 

“My journey is kind of skewed,” he said, “It’s always been difficult for me to get regular employment. I did odd jobs and what not.”

Guided by hunger and word of mouth, Harrison found his way to West Oakland Farms, where he received a plate of compassion that included a part-time job paying $21.50 an hour. He earned a reputation as a reliable worker. When the food truck opportunity opened, Harrison, 34, was recommended by farm leaders.

Soul On a Roll
Howard Harrison is a partner in Soul On a Roll food truck. (Ruth Dusseault)

Brown started Oakland & the World Enterprise in 2016 with West Oakland Farms. The food truck is her organization’s second venture. The third project will be the construction of a $72 million affordable housing development with a restaurant, fitness center, neighborhood market and an artisanal clothing manufacturer. That project, using public money and private donations, is being done in partnership with developer McCormack Baron Salazar, and is set to break ground in December. Brown said businesses in the development also will be run by people the system left behind.

Brown wants to diminish the barriers to opportunity that people coming out of prison face. 

“What are you supposed to do? Drop dead? That seems to be the plan,” she said. “So, my plan is with this population of people who don’t have any jobs or anything, we can have our own money and have our own business and we won’t have to beg people.”

5 Comments

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