Published January 2021
By Brandon King | Photos by Brent Fuchs | 4 min read
Food trucks transitioned from a traveling treat to a safer alternative to dining in restaurants amid the pandemic. For members of South Central Industries—a nonprofit in Shawnee that provides vocational training and employment opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities—it was another chance to give back to the community with their latest venture: the Special Kneads Eats & Treats food trailer.
Before the pandemic, clients at South Central Industries wanted to gain experience in the culinary world.
“For many of our clients, the food industry appeals to them because it’s artistic but also helpful to the community,” says Tina Hannah, executive director of South Central Industries. “But they were going up against high schoolers and college students, as well as not having much experience in the kitchen. This made employment opportunities difficult. So, we took it upon ourselves to create those opportunities.”
After renovations, a former snow cone stand became the cerulean mobile vendor Oklahoma foodies know today. In partnership with The Lunch Box—a local staple in the Shawnee restaurant community—Special Kneads Eats & Treats was scheduled to launch in March 2020. Then, due to the pandemic, operations were placed on hold. One month later, it was introduced to the public at the opening of the golf course at the Firelake Casino in Shawnee.
“We had people throughout the community coming to us all day,” Hannah says of the successful debut.
Proper food safety is one of the many skills Special Kneads' clients learn working the popular Shawnee food trailer. Photo by Brent Fuchs
As owner of The Lunchbox in Shawnee, Lee Rutherford had hired many South Central Industries clients to work at her café. As the food trailer became less of a dream and more of a reality, Rutherford offered her culinary services. She helped create the menu for Special Kneads, and she now manages it as well.
Special Kneads serves a small but diverse culinary selection including the Walking Taco—a Tex-Mex blend of ground beef, lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomato, and salsa served over Nacho Cheese Doritos. The Veggie combines avocado, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, red onion, cheddar cheese, sesame seeds, and mustard served on an English muffin. For dessert, customers can order homemade lemon bars. Since the food trailer has no room for a mobile kitchen, all the food is prepared at The Lunch Box then sold out of the trailer.
“We wanted to offer fulfilling, on-the-go meals and desserts that were unique to our style,” Rutherford says. “Our menu consists of some of the The Lunch Box menu, but we’re continuing to add new items and make things per the customer’s request, including a Frito Chili Pie. This gives us a chance to try interesting combinations as the seasons change and ideas are inspired.”
Word spread of a safe, nutritious alternative to traditional dining after the Firelake debut. This generated business for the South Central Industries working clients and volunteers while promoting the local cuisine provided by The Lunch Box. It was a win-win; or, as it’s written on the sides of the Special Kneads food trailer: Good Food for Good.
For information about the Special Kneads Eats & Treats food trailer, follow them on Facebook @specialkneadseats or schedule a visit at (405) 275-3851.