2 UPenn kosher chefs lost their jobs because of COVID. Now they’re opening a kosher food truck to help the needy.

Troy Harris in front of his Grassroots kosher food truck. (Joseph Kaczmarek) 

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Furloughed from their jobs as chefs at the University of Pennsylvania’s kosher dining hall because of the pandemic, Troy Harris and Kareem Wallace will make a long-held dream of theirs come true — and perhaps help others realize their dreams.

They plan to open a kosher food truck, with some of the proceeds going to help underprivileged youth in West Philadelphia, the site of the Ivy League school’s campus.

Harris and Wallace, who are Black, wanted to open the truck at the beginning of the summer, but the plan was delayed by the coronavirus.

The mobile eatery is called Grassroots. “The Chosen Mitbach,” or kitchen, as it is nicknamed, will serve dairy food, including  macaroni and cheese, tomato basil soup, quesadillas, chili fries and “build your own” pasta options.

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“We’re trying to change lives, to put a lot of these young youths, young adults, single mothers, single parents, parents, anybody, on the right track,” Harris said.

The two met more than a decade ago at the Falk Dining Commons located in the campus Hillel and had their truck plan for six years, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, a student newspaper. They were furloughed without pay for the fall semester by the Bon Appétit Management Company.

Proceeds from the truck, which will be located in a park in the Penn neighborhood, will pay for vocational training and employment opportunities for underprivileged students and young adults, the daily reported.

Harris told the newspaper that the Jewish community has provided a key support system for the pair since they started working in the dining hall. Students and former students came through for Harris in 2008 when his house was destroyed in a fire, and after his son was shot in the back in 2018 and paralyzed from the waist down.

Many of the Grassroots board members are graduates and current Penn students  who met Harris and Wallace at Falk Dining Commons. Many of the food cart’s donors also are part of the campus Jewish community, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.