Ending World Hunger One Bite at a TimeApr 01, 2018 ● By Dru Bickham
Business owners and married couple Austin and Ashton Samuelson are the masterminds behind the young, but quickly growing restaurant franchise Tacos 4 Life. This restaurant has a business model built on spreading hope and opportunity to countries in need. When you step through their doors, a portion of every taco you purchase is donated to Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to solving the world hunger issue. Over the past three-and-a-half years, since opening their first restaurant in Conway, Ark., the Samuelsons have enjoyed meteoric success, but their journey has been a winding one, to say the least. It all began in 2010 with a message and call to action.
The couple was attending church where they lived in Los Angeles at the time, when the CEO of World Vision, Richard Stearns, came to speak to the congregation. He shared a staggering statistic: 18,000 children are dying every day from malnutrition and hunger. But, he shared another hopeful truth: world hunger is our most solvable large-scale problem. Countries with a surplus of food and resources have the power and opportunity to help where this problem affects impoverished countries that do not have the means to help themselves. This sparked something in the Samuelsons. “I just remember asking how this is the world’s most solvable problem. Then, how can we be a part of that solution?” explains Mrs. Samuelson. They sought to help, in local ways at first, but, soon, a big idea came to mind. What about a restaurant with a business model that donates a portion of every entree to the world hunger cause?
After much research and planning, they came to a point where they knew they would have to find a trustworthy organization to partner with to take care of the donation side of their business. “We had a proposal of 25 cents per entree. If we donated that amount to an organization, could they promise us the money would go purely towards food for the hungry?” explains Mrs. Samuelson. No one could promise them this, until they sat down with Mark Crea, the CEO of FMSC.
FMSC’s goal is to reach the world’s hungriest children through volunteer-packed meals that cost 22 cents to produce and package. These meals are rice-based and perfectly formulated to supply a starving individual with the right nutrients. These meals can transform a child suffering from the effects of malnutrition into a healthy person. FMSC’s model is unique in that they use no machines, but the hands of real volunteers to package these meals, which means their impact is two-fold. Mrs. Samuelson says, “It is truly amazing because of the dual impact in extending Americans the opportunity to make a difference in just a two-hour time shift of packing these meals and, of course, in restoring these children. I have seen these meals at work with my own eyes, and it is miraculous.”
After meeting with FMSC and agreeing to partner with them, the Samuelsons opened their first restaurant, Pitza 4 2, in Conway, Ark., just eight months after the idea took hold. Neither of them had worked in the food industry before, so this restaurant opening was both an incredible struggle and learning experience for the couple. As planned, a portion of the revenue from every pizza was donated to FMSC, and they provided more than 500 meals this way, which was a huge and empowering step. After about a year-and-a-half of crazy hours and dedication to their restaurant, they were introduced to Children’s Cup, one of FMSC’s most trusted out of their 89 partners around the world. Children’s Cup focuses on developing children in need holistically, and part of that includes their health and nutrition. The organization receives the meals FMSC provides and distributes them, by hand, to people in starving countries. The Samuelsons traveled to Swaziland in Africa with Children’s Cup in the summer of 2013 to see for themselves the impact of the work they were doing. They witnessed the true nature of world hunger.
Mrs. Samuelson remembers what it felt like that day, to be standing over a large pot full of this rice meal, serving the children of a poor village. Too soon, with too many children still standing empty-handed, the pot was empty. All that was left to give the rest of the kids was a loaf of white bread -- one slice each. Mrs. Samuelson admits, “It was one of the most horrible yet charging moments of my life. I wanted to run away and cry, but, at the same time, it filled me with purpose. I knew I would be doing this for the rest of my life. No matter how hard it is or what it costs me, I will do this forever.”
After this humbling and inspiring experience, the Samuelsons returned home with renewed fervor for their mission. With faith and a refreshed perspective, they decided to start a new restaurant concept and Tacos 4 Life was born. Tacos as an entree presented an opportunity for more donations per customer for the hungry. Right at the start of summer 2014, when they opened their first store in Conway, the nationwide taco craze was at its peak. The Samuelsons were in the right place at the right time, and for all the right reasons.
The new restaurant took off like a bullet, accumulating more popularity, revenue and, therefore, more donations to FMSC. In 2015, the couple said goodbye to Pitza 4 2, as they turned it into another Tacos 4 Life and opened yet another location in Fayetteville, Ark. After catching their breath and managing their new growth in 2016, the two attacked 2017 with a new vengeance, opening a whopping five restaurants and announcing their franchising of Tacos 4 Life. Their last opening, in December 2017, was right here in Frisco, in Frisco Market Center at Main Street and Dallas Parkway.
After opening so many restaurants in their beloved home state, why North Texas? “Why Frisco? Why not?” Mrs. Samuelson counters enthusiastically. “It is an amazing place and we have heard such great things about the heart of Frisco. The more we heard about it, the more we realized it was a great fit for our brand. It is a new, fun, growing, exciting area we just could not wait to be a part of.”
Frisco local Craig Moore approached the Samuelsons expressing interest in the brand and their greater purpose. He was an excellent fit for their company and its values, and Mrs. Samuelson says finding the right franchisees is the key to their continued, desired growth into more of Texas and other states. “We are looking for like-minded, interested franchisees who want to make a difference with the brand and help spread our vision. We want our customers to feel like guests in our home and for them to be able to get quality tacos they cannot get anywhere else. We also want them to feel challenged and to leave the restaurant with a desire to make the world a better place … with an impact that goes beyond themselves.”
Tacos 4 Life stores are now donating 1,000 meals per day, per store, and in the last three-and-a-half years, they have been able to donate more than four million meals to hungry children. In 2018 alone, they project to donate another four million meals. “It has been a whirlwind,” Mrs. Samuelson says, breathlessly, reflecting on her family’s life in recent years. “But, it has been amazing to watch this vision take shape and explode into what it is now.”
If you have been wanting to make a difference, but you did not know how, now is the time! It can be as easy as enjoying a tasty taco right down the street. Tacos 4 Life in Frisco is located at 9169 Dallas Parkway #120. Check out all this couple plans to do in the future and the restaurant’s menu at tacos4life.com.